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EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE: Husband, wife aim to restore lives through food and shelter

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- One man's mission to reach out to the homeless and hungry in our community has developed into a full-time ministry. Rick Stoker has teamed up with his wife LeeAnna to impact lives for the better.

First Fruit Ministries hands out 20,000 meals to those in need every year. That's just the beginning of how they are reaching out to restore lives. But their impact started small, with one man, former medical device salesman Rick Stoker, who began a street outreach for homeless runaway children.

"I’d go out late at night at two, three and four o'clock in the morning and just talk to the homeless," Rick said.

His heart for the needy turned into what is now First Fruit Ministries. Coupled with his wife's non-profit business acumen, they developed the Wilmington Dream Center, a shelter the size of a half city block that houses mostly survivors of human trafficking and their children.

"They've been caught up in a cycle of victimization and they may not always identify themselves that way at first," LeeAnna said. "But when they start to get rid of old mindsets and start to see who they really are, what a treasure they really are, they credit the unconditional love they have received as consistently reminding them that they are worth being loved and respected.”

The Stokers say their efforts go way beyond fulfilling physical needs. To them, it's about molding people into their purposes.

"From a cup of soup on the street to seeing someone move into their own house and have their children back, have their own car, their own job, that's what it's all about," Rick said.

LeeAnna echoed her husband's sentiment. "We help them connect to who they are and who they were created to be."

Every Wednesday people in need of food line up outside their ministry doors well before the food pantry opens.
Once inside, folks can pick up vegetables, fresh meats and drinks. It’s just like grocery shopping, minus the bill. The Stokers say they are happy to see smiling faces.

Rick said, "We’re just trying to love people that are not very loved by the whole world."

First Fruit Ministries is located at 2750 Vance Street in Wilmington.

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