Ella Strother was raised in Northeast DC in a family that always helped the poor and homeless. So it was not a surprise that in 2002 she founded Ella’s Kids, a Christian-based non-profit organization that works with challenged families that reside in shelters, families of ex-offenders, and families of substance abusers, among others in need.
“My mom and dad did this as we were growing up,” Strother said in an interview with Gifts for the Homeless. “They helped people get housing, get jobs, get on their feet, get clothes, get food, fed them at our house, washed them, they bathed at our house. We always had homeless and poor people with us. So, I just put a name on it and kept moving.”
Ella’s Kids has grown to an institution, also in Northeast, that serves 500 to 1,000 people a week, providing help with food, clothing, job-seeking, health and housing, and a range of other services. A clothing bank and a food bank are open year-round, and no one is turned away, Strother said.
The purpose of Ella’s Kids is simple, in her words: “Our mission and goal is to help families get up, get out and get on with life — to provide sustenance, to help them. Where we can, we do referrals to help people get jobs, help people get their IDs straightened out, help people get into drug and alcohol programs.”
For school-aged children, Strother said, “We do school supplies. We did laptops. We were able to get in 80 laptops from donors to give out to kids who had defective laptops from their school. They weren’t able to study. So, we did that also.”
Ella’s Kids partners with other organizations including the YMCA, Community Family Life Services, Community of Hope, Jubilee Housing, Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, as well as Gifts for the Homeless.
Gifts for the Homeless, an all-volunteer organization that provides more than $1.5 million in clothing annually to homeless shelters and support facilities in the D.C. area. It delivers more clothing and blankets to Ella’s than any other nonprofit it serves – typically two truckloads.
“Shoes, clothes, blankets, sweats, long johns, everything you give us, we give out,” Strother said. “We help people with clothes year-round. And we feed them every week. So, while they’re there getting food, we give them clothes too. There’s a lot of poor people that are cold. We give out the clothes, the blankets, the sweats, the socks, the shoes, the hats, the hoodies, the sweatsuits, the gloves, the long johns. Oh my God, we give out long johns. Everybody wants long johns.”
How did the pandemic affect Ella’s Kids? Like other organizations, Strother made do with fewer volunteers for safety sake. But surprisingly perhaps, she said, “In many ways, we’ve actually done better, because though we had fewer donors, we had donors giving more. And that was a wonderful thing, especially during the holiday season. We partnered with my church (Greater Mount Calvary) and fed 5,000 just for Thanksgiving.”