It’s those who are dispossessed – the homeless, victims of sex trafficking, commercial sex workers, those with addictions – who make up LEE ANNA STOKER’s crew. Stoker, who is the co-founder and executive director of First Fruit Ministries, reaches out to these individuals and provides resources to help them regain their lives.
WHERE DOES THE NAME FIRST FRUIT MINISTRIES COME FROM? “When Rick (Stoker) and I started the ministry, we weren’t thinking long term about building an organization. We were entirely focused on meeting the emergency needs of people we saw suffering in the city. It was our first fruit offering to the Lord; walking away from our regular lives, giving up our income and our safety, and answering a call to ministry.”
WHAT IS YOUR ESTIMATION AS TO HOW MANY PEOPLE YOU’VE HELPED TO DATE THROUGH THE WORK YOU DO? “In twenty-four years of ministry, I have an accurate data count of more than 800,000 individuals served. We started serving meals to unsheltered individuals in 1998 and opened our first housing program for women and families who were experiencing homelessness or trafficking in 2000. More than 1,200 people eat from our food pantry weekly. Almost 37,000 people used our pantry in 2021 alone. We have more than thirty units of housing from crisis response transitional spots and short-term rapid rehousing, to fully supported permanent housing. In 2021, we served more than 600 people living outside in Wilmington!”
HOW DO YOU SURVIVE FINANCIALLY? “We receive support from individuals, foundations, and various government grant programs. To be part of First Fruit Ministries is to accept an invitation to do the best thing I can think of, which is to practice loving others well in their moment of greatest need. Others can support us financially by going to our website, FirstFruitMinistries.org, and becoming donors. They can join us as volunteers and even train to be mentors and advocates for people experiencing human trafficking and homelessness.”
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE FUTURE OF FIRST FRUIT MINISTRIES? “I want to create a campus where people who find themselves in crisis in our community, whether it’s a woman or a child being trafficked and sold for sex, or someone who’s lived in a tent for years as a victim of their own mental health or substance use struggles, or even someone struck by the vagaries of life, can be wrapped in unconditional love. But love without action is dead. My hope for the future of the ministry is that it will continue to be a place that is generous, relational, and authentic in its service to others.”
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU’D LIKE OUR READERS TO KNOW ABOUT THE PEOPLE YOU SERVE? “When I talk about the work we do, I regularly get questions like, ‘Why don’t they just get a job?’ Conversations take on the form of blame-shifting and black-and-white thinking. Often, outside impressions of what it is to be homeless or a victim of trafficking are usually formed from incomplete information and a bit of arrogance. As we mature and grow, we begin to see that the world is chaotic, that suffering is not simply a product of our poor choices, and that humility is the only honest response to clear thinking.”