Elisabeth Omilami, affectionately called Mrs. O. by her staff, runs the largest Black-owned food bank in the southeast of America. She runs Hosea Helps, based in Atlanta, which was established some 50 years ago by her father, Hosea Williams, a civil rights activist who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hosea Helps is a national organization that feeds, clothes, houses, and provides other services to people across the country and around the world.
Omilami took charge of the food bank after the death of her father in 2000. Prior to taking up the reins of her father’s company, Omilami was an actress. She has starred in a number of movies, including The Blind Side, Ray, and We Are Marshall.
In the initial phase of her management, Omilami noted that it became difficult for her to combine her acting career and managing Hosea Helps. However, she eventually decided to focus on building her father’s legacy before later returning to pursue her acting career.
“I lost jobs. I have auditions sitting on my desk right now that my agent sent me last week that I didn’t do. You can’t do everything. You make a decision. It was a sacrifice. Sometimes it makes me sad, but I am the protector of the legacy. That’s the role that I’ve taken,” she told StyleBlueprint.
Since taking over as the new boss of Hosea Helps, Omilami has expanded the food bank to reach over 50,000 people each year. But she’s had some challenges. There was a time when the food bank didn’t have a physical office and was bouncing from one warehouse to another for about four years. Later, Omilami successfully supervised the construction of a new headquarters.
“The building is something that I’m very proud of, having a $2.5 million capital campaign and raising $2.8 million. When we first got in this building, it was just a shell. It had to be completely designed and built, which my niece and my son helped design. It is a family effort, and I’m very proud that the family was able to come together. And I’m proud of raising the number of staff in the case management area from seven to 21,” she told StyleBlueprint.
One of her other challenges has been raising money. “Fundraising is something that has to be in your blood,” she said. “You have to be one of those people who enjoy the chase, someone who enjoys telling your story, enjoys the conquest. And that’s not really my personality. I’m a lot more artistic and laid back. I’m not that ‘chase it down and get that check’ kind of person, but I had to become that kind of person.”
When the pandemic struck, Hosea Helps continued working serving people nationwide. “Our numbers tripled in terms of the number of people we were able to serve because we started utilizing these smaller nonprofits,” Omilami said.
“We are at our best when people have nowhere else to go. Hosea Helps is there nationwide, not just in Georgia. We were there during Katrina. We served more people in Atlanta from Katrina than any other organization. We were there for Flint, Michigan, sending 28 tractor-trailer loads full of water. We were there for storm disasters that happened in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee,” she added.