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Fellow Profile: Aligning with God's Will

A Fellow’s Journey to Bread

May 2014

As a fellow working at Bread for the World, Ericka Elion knows something about hunger firsthand.

When she was 20 years old, Elion was a single mother without enough income to feed and clothe her child. She didn’t want to seek public assistance because of the associated stigma, but eventually relented when her mother assured her that she was only asking for help that she truly needed. Elion still remembers picking up the phone to request a food stamp application, fighting back a combination of doubt and shame, and being met with scolding and interrogation on the other end of the line. She hung up the phone, resolved to overcome poverty and speak out for others experiencing similar injustice.

Today, years later, as an Evangelical Covenant Church Fellow in Bread's Washington, D.C., office, Elion helps young adults to use their gift of citizenship to champion solutions to poverty and hunger. One of her recent projects was organizing Bread's first Google Hangout, which drew 81 participants. In addition to educating and empowering new activists, these efforts have strengthened Bread as an organization by building and diversifying its membership base.

For as long as she can remember, Elion has always identified with marginalized people. She moved frequently as a child, attending more elementary schools than she can name. Blessed with natural confidence and a bubbly personality, she was quickly accepted into social circles, but without the time to build deep relationships, she always felt like an outsider. She gravitated instinctively to children who were less readily accepted, befriending the lonely and defending those who were bullied.

Elion has combined her personal connection to people struggling with hunger and poverty with her faith. She began a successful career in business and attended Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where she was active in the congregation before receiving God’s call to ministry. She was a minister in training for four years under Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., studying social justice, race reconciliation, and advocacy. This community became her foundation, giving her the strength to press on and to lift up others. It was strength she would need, because Elion was one of millions of Americans who lost their jobs in the economic recession. She found herself turning to public assistance once again.

Fortunately, Ericka recognized this setback for the opportunity that it was and completed an application she had started years before at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. Even though she worked part-time, the following few years presented another grueling struggle with food insecurity— including expiring unemployment benefits and a second dispiriting application for SNAP (formerly food stamps). Even on days she didn't have enough money for a full meal, she recognized this adversity as God's work in her life — a reminder to focus on her family and her calling instead of wealth, comfort, or status.

Today, Elion is just a few classes away from completing a Master of Divinity and nonprofit management degree, and she is one of five Bread fellows. Her fellowship is sponsored by Covenant World Relief, the Evangelical Covenant Church's response to human suffering and injustice through disaster relief and community development, and a longtime partner of Bread.

Elion describes her work with Bread as "truly ordained and perfectly in alignment with God's will. The timing could not have been better. I want to publicly thank the entire organization for pouring into me. Thank you, Bread!"

Photo: Ericka Elion combines her faith, personal experiences, and gifts in helping Bread for the World reach out to young adults. Courtesy Ericka Elion

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