First Fruit Ministries is the evolution of First Fruit Mime and Drama Ministry, a dramatic teaching and performing organization. Its current form and mission were developed in 1998, after ten years in operation, when founder Rick Stoker began street outreach to homeless runaway children. This led to caring for women working in Wilmington’s sex industry, who often connected with the street children on the margins of the main-stream social service industry. After beginning a routine of bringing meals and supplies under the downtown bridges to those living below, Pastor Stoker began providing a regular Thursday night dinner for the homeless community that continues uninterrupted from 1999 to the present. This heart of outreach was the start of First Fruit Ministries as it now operates. In April of 2000, First Fruit Ministries opened a women’s transitional housing program in response to the needs of the women Pastor Stoker and close volunteers had been serving under the bridges. This matured into Wilmington Dream Center: Transitional Housing.
First Fruit began a “Morning Coffee” program in early 2001, using downtown businesses before hours to increase care for those on the street. The Men’s Mentorship Program also began in September of 2001, directed by a former FFM client in recovery. As funding increased, services such as food boxes and mental health care became available. Eventually the “food boxes” became one of the largest food pantries in the tri-county area.
As City of Wilmington ordinances changed, the Morning Coffee program ended and the Ministry relocated from the northern end of the city to a commercial zone within an older residential neighborhood near the shipyards.
In 2004/2005 First Fruit Ministries purchased and renovated half a city block of buildings and property in the Long Leaf Park area. A main ministry center was developed that holds a large community space, eight bedrooms for 12 single homeless women, two apartments for homeless families, a warehouse, large commercially equipped kitchen, dining hall, laundry-mat, a former convenience store, and a 25’x60’ community garden. The entire campus also comprises a separate house for the men’s mentorship program, and another home for female interns, along with a former medical clinic/storage building.
Since First Fruit Ministries began in 1998, it has grown to serve over 20,000 hot meals, provide emergency groceries to over 5,000 households, and shelter over 24 homeless women and families annually.