Rev. Elaine Sanford with Sanders Catering, partner in delivering student meals.

By Lynn Norment

MEMPHIS, TN — Reverend Dr. Elaine Sanford is a woman on a mission. And she refuses to allow the Covid-19 pandemic to slow her down. 

As founder of HER Faith Ministries Inc. in Memphis, she is focused on helping homeless and needy women and their children achieve better lives by becoming stable and self-sustaining. The organization offers programs to empower and

Reverend Dr. Elaine Y. Sanford, founder and executive director, HER Faith Ministries.

protect needy women and children while helping to strengthen their ability to succeed. 

“Our vision is to aid in the reduction of poverty, food insecurity and other deprivation by providing such basic needs as emergency food, seasonal changes of clothing, assistance with rent and utilities to prevent eviction, and offering assistance with transportation,” Reverend Sanford explained.  

Over the past 12 years, the ministry has served countless women and children throughout Memphis and Shelby County, where the poverty rate is almost 30 percent. 

Rev. Sanford says she is motivated by the results of her work. When women whom she has helped out of poverty or a struggling young mother finally secures a job with a livable wage, she is motivated to keep going. When a family moves out of deplorable housing to safe and affordable housing, that’s encouraging. 

“And when families no longer need our help because they can meet their challenges of food insecurity, we know that what we are doing is helping to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Reverend Elaine.

She said she was called to the ministry in 2007 after repeated dreams in which she heard herself preaching. 

After her calling, she worked in prison ministry, and then established HER Faith Ministries. An ordained minister in the Tennessee Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Sanford earned Doctor of Ministry and Master of Divinity degrees from Memphis Theological Seminary. In 2017, she entered the ministry full-time and founded the non-denominational Park Avenue Christian Church, which operates out of HER Faith Ministries headquarters.

Rev. Sanford started the church because the women she sought to help did not have a spiritual home and were not comfortable worshipping at most churches because of their poverty. The church does not push for people to make financial donations. “At our church, people are concerned about learning about Jesus and becoming emotionally, physically and spiritually strong,” Rev. Sanford says. “We keep it simple and go back to the model of how Jesus ministered to people. He preached where he was.”

A good day for Sanford is when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place for the families with whom she works. 

For example, in Spring 2020 HER Faith Ministries was assisting a mother and teenage son when the pandemic hit. They could not find emergency housing because everyone became overly cautious about COVID-19. A portion of their office space quickly was transformed into living accommodations for the mother and son, who remained there for six weeks until an apartment was found. HER Faith Ministries assisted with move-in expenses.  

The past year of the pandemic has made Reverend Elaine mission even more difficult, but it has not diminished her commitment. She says the most critical way the pandemic has affected her work is the “psychological and emotional impact” of not being able to personally interact with people. She regrets she has not been able to “offer love, prayer, guidance and support face to face over the past year.” 

In addition, the pandemic has hampered Reverend Elaine’s ability to hold fundraising activities for essential programs. HER Faith Ministries also suspended accepting donations of clothing and household goods. The agency’s Clothes Closet is well-known throughout the Memphis community. People in need come in for garments, many wearing their new items when they leave. 

“But on the positive side,” she says, “we have seen an increase in general support from the public since the onset of the virus.”

Before accepting a call to ministry, Rev. Sanford enjoyed a diverse career in broadcast journalism and healthcare marketing. She feels that the work she performs now to help impoverished women and children is what she is “called to do.” 

“The work of ministering to the poor or to those in prison is not something that everyone is called to do,” she says, adding that others are caretakers to children or to the elderly, while still others are nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, food handlers or police officers. 

“We are all called to one vocation or another,” she says.

Rev. Sanford emphasizes that every positive charitable action or donation by an individual, business or agency can make a difference in the world. She adds, “If we could all do just a little, then no one has to do a lot.”