Local Hero: Northern Virginia Woman's Mission to End Childhood Hunger

Growing up in Reston, Virginia, Elizabeth Ford knew what it was like to go hungry. She vividly remembers sitting outside the local 7/11, scraping together quarters just to afford a hot dog or some nachos. But her struggles didn't end there. At school, she often went without food, telling classmates she was on a diet to mask her hunger—a strategy she felt girls could get away with more easily.

Without a clear path forward and lacking mentorship or access to resources like food pantries, Ford dropped out of high school in the ninth grade. She eventually earned her GED and found work as a hostess at a Chili’s restaurant. Despite these challenges, she was determined to change the narrative for kids growing up in Northern Virginia, particularly in her own community.

In 2016, Ford took a bold step and founded BetterALife, an organization aimed at ensuring no child in Northern Virginia experiences the same hunger and hardship she did. Her mission was simple yet profound: to feed any child who said they were hungry.

Starting small, BetterALife established a food pantry in Purcellville, but Ford's heart was set on reaching her hometown of Reston. Recently, her efforts paid off as the organization expanded to the Cathy Hudgins Community Center, bringing much-needed food support to families in the area. Every Wednesday at noon, around 40 families eagerly line up for assistance, highlighting the stark reality of food insecurity even in affluent neighborhoods like Reston.

But BetterALife is about more than just providing meals. They offer homework help and cooking classes, fostering a sense of community and support for children facing hunger and educational challenges. Ford recalls the story of a 9-year-old girl who casually walked into the Purcellville pantry one afternoon, admitting she hadn't eaten all day. Without hesitation, Ford cooked her a simple meal—a small act of kindness that meant the world to a hungry child.

The organization's impact extends beyond filling stomachs. Through programs like the homework club and cooking classes, children are gaining essential skills and confidence. Ford beams with pride as she recounts the progress of a young girl who went from struggling to read to confidently sharing stories—a testament to the transformative power of support and opportunity.

As BetterALife continues to grow, Ford remains committed to her vision of a community where every child can thrive. Funded by grants, donations, and annual galas, the organization is expanding its reach, with plans for a thrift store to sustain its mission and open more food pantries across the region. Yet, despite their growth, Ford and her team never forget the importance of personal outreach, going door to door to ensure no child goes hungry.

For Ford, the greatest reward is knowing that they've made a difference in a child's life—that they've replaced worry and hunger with joy and possibility. As she reflects on her journey from hungry child to tireless advocate, Ford's determination remains unwavering: "The children can grow, the children can thrive," she says. "They're no longer the ones who feel lost or forgotten. They can just be kids."

Source: Hubbard
Photo: Getty

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