Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless: Interview with Elisabeth Omilami

Written by  //  March 6, 2012  //  Community  // 

HoseaFeed

By Courtney D. Ward

It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon and Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless (HFTH) has already fed and assisted over 10,000 people during the week.

Esteem Magazine sat down with CEO of HFTH, Elisabeth Omilami or Mrs. O, to discuss the mission of HFTH, the importance of the community taking part in HFTH, and how she plans to take HFTH to the next level. Mrs. O is the daughter of civil rights activist and founder of HFTH, Hosea Williams.

Esteem Magazine (EM): What is Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless?

Mrs. Elisabeth Omilami: We are a group of people from different backgrounds, and our mission is to do our best to rescue, restore, and to stabilize individuals and families who are in a crisis. We’re really a ministry of many sorts. We provide the basic needs of people in terms of scarcity of food, if their (home) is being foreclosed, and we give money to prevent homelessness in those ways. We assist in education in terms of helping people in their personal development towards getting jobs or better jobs. We also talk  and embrace people when they are hurting and when they need somebody to listen to them.

EM: Based on your father’s vision, what is your mission and contribution to the organization?

Omilami: When he (Hosea Williams) was running the organization he was an elected official so he would only keep HFTH open for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. When my husband and I took over after his passing in 2000, we decided it needed to be institutionalized so that it could be year round. The needs of the people began to dictate the programs that we would implement. So when he passed, we did the typical Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, but we also asked what do we do now? People kept coming every day. We began to ask what are their needs, and what do we have to do to meet those needs? At first it was just physical things like food and toiletry items, but then we began to get funding for other programs and services. And we’ve been open all year for the past five years. We moved into disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and were able to meet the needs of the thousands who came to Atlanta. We also began to travel. We built a school in the Philippines and did missions in Haiti.

EM: 42 years later, what impact has been made in the community to address hunger and homelessness?

Omilami: I think people know they will never have to be hungry, if they can just get to Hosea Feed the Hungry or send their relatives there in order to have access to food. Our stability is based on the fact that we are open every day, all day and also on some Saturdays.

EM: The holidays are coming soon. What does the organization do to prepare?

Omilami: The first thing we have to do is secure the funding for the rental of the Georgia World Congress Center. We begin our first meeting two months before the events. We desperately need help this year, because the large amount of vegetables we use are very hard to obtain, in terms of donations. We cook for 15,000 people, and we cannot use the small cans of vegetables. We have to get most of the food donated because we don’t want to use all the money just on food. There are other things we do at the dinner.

We also have to get started on the medical clinic and the doctors. The clothing center has to sort, clean and fold to get their center ready. Then we organize and identify participating barbers and beauticians and get their commitments. We also have the Kids Korner. It’s quite a comprehensive day. 

EM: How important are volunteers?

Omilami: We have a small staff…and they work the dinners, but the dinner events are run by a team of volunteers called Department Heads, some of whom have participated for over 28 years. There are about 54 of them; and these groups of people do everything. All we have to do is give them the items. From the cooking (held at the DeKalb County jail, the largest industrial kitchen in the southeast), to the opening of the cans, getting the turkeys, and the vegetables to make the dressing. They start cooking at 6:00 P.M. the day before the event. Some of the turkeys have already been prepared prior to the event. The drivers and the people who set up all the different auxiliaries and activities happening around the dining hall are all volunteers. When it comes to the warehouses and the food banks, those are all volunteers as well. We also get volunteers from companies.

We have an e-mail blast of 4,000 contacts and use about 9,000 volunteers a year.

EM: How can the community address hunger and homelessness?

Omilami: I want to have a better relationship with the colleges and universities here in Atlanta. We’re not really connected and we’re right near each other. We just need to go over there and have a roundtable with them so we can get them involved more. I would also like to see the pastors focus more on what we call hunger disparity or food deserts in our community, where people don’t eat fresh food, they just eat processed food all the time. They never go to the Farmer’s Market because they feel they cannot afford fresh food.

EM: Does HFTH partner with public schools?

Omilami: Yes, we have our “Tools for School” program, and we have the big “Back to School” Jamboree in July. We distribute school supplies, book bags, etc. for students. We also have a tent for teachers. I would like the counselors and PTAs to begin talking to parents and let them know that there is no shame in asking for help. Hungry children cannot learn.

EM: Using social media, what is the dialogue with followers/fans?

Omilami: If you text “HFTH” to 20222 you can give $10 by using your cell phone. We have the mobile texting, and we’re trying to get more of the media involved so that we can begin to gather an army of young people who want to make sure no child goes hungry. We are also on Facebook and Twitter. The Twitter handle is @4HOSEA. We are using social media to educate the community on our mission, and our daily availability. We’re in the process of beefing up our social media presence.

EM: In terms of the position you are in, how do you feel about the overall service you do?

Omilami: I always want to do more. It’s never enough of course. I always want to do more, and I always want to learn and get a better knowledge in running a company, because even though we’re a non-profit organization, we still have to run it like a company. And I always want to spread the word and hopefully the words that I say will break through the hardened hearts of people today who are so fearful, and can’t think about anyone else.

As you pour your life into others, you get life. So you don’t have to be afraid of “how am I going to survive”, unless you’ve isolated yourself and created a world where you think you can hold on to what you have. Life doesn’t work that way. The paradox of life is that it is only as you give that you receive.

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Courtney_Ward-NewCourtney D. Ward
“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” -Maya AngelouAs an up and coming journalist, Courtney D. Ward is determined to be an accomplished writer. A native of Atlanta, GA, Courtney attended Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis in News Editorial. In 2009, she received the Journalist of the Year Award at the Bethune-Cookman University Massey Awards Ceremony. She is currently a Feature Writer for Esteem Magazine.Visit her in “Twitter-land” @ writedayz. courtney.ward88@gmail.com

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