“My life,” Kim R. Ford likes to say, “has come full circle.” She grew up in Shepherd Park in Ward 4 and volunteered as a teenager chopping vegetables at Martha’s Table on 14th street. Her first job out of college was working designing cars for Nissan. After that she spent years, both at the federal government and then locally at UDC, revamping adult education and community college systems, where the students often had small children at home. She excelled as a leader, energizing employees with purpose.
In April of last year she returned to Martha’s Table, but this time as President & CEO. Her organization’s mission: “support strong children, strong families and strong communities.”
Martha’s Table has come a long way in the intervening twenty years. It’s evolved from being a soup kitchen to also running free food truck for those who are housing unstable. It’s not just a food pantry, but a promoter of healthy eating where once a month locals can come shop for fruit and vegetables for free. It’s not just a thrift shop, it’s an outfitters boutique specializing in children’s clothing and adult professional attire for working parents. It’s not just a daycare, it’s a nationally accredited early childhood education center where every song and activity is part of an intentional curriculum.
Just before Patty Stonesifer passed the leadership baton to Kim, Martha’s Table went through another big transition, moving its headquarters from 14th street to Anacostia into a state-of-the-art facility. A small satellite location called the Maycroft remains in Columbia Heights. The Anacostia site’s land was gifted by the Horning Brothers (FC2 Trustee David Roodberg is President and CEO), who also seeded initial capital to pay for the building’s construction. Names of benefactors and other generous donors adorn the main meeting hall.
Across the room is another list of names—of all of the 115 people who work at Martha’s Table. At the top of the list is Washington Perez who is the longest-serving employee. Kim’s name is buried two-thirds down since she’s only been an employee for less than two years. This is Kim’s management style. She inspires and leads, but she wants others to shine brighter.
She brings the same mentality to Martha’s Table as it deepens its bonds in Anacostia. “The community is at the front,” she says, “we are just trying to stand aside and support.” The facility in many ways acts as a community center. Local nonprofits use the convening rooms. It hosts “Fathers to the Front” meetings every month and senior wellness workouts twice a week. The building hugs a courtyard where kids can safely play. Right next door is Community of Hope (FC2 Trustee Kelly Sweeney McShane is President and CEO), which helps expectant and new mothers with emotional and health services.
Part of the headquarter move was to accommodate the shift in the geography of need. It’s also part of a deliberate strategy to prevent in Anacostia the kind of displacement that happened along 14th street. Kim is making sure Martha’s Table goes deep into the local community and keeps it rooted. The goal is that in 10, 20 or 30 years, the same same people who live in Anacostia today can choose to remain there and share in future prosperity.
If there is a common thread throughout Kim’s career, she says it’s that “I always look for levers you can pull within systems that lead to systemic change.” The stats suggest this lever is working. In 2019 alone, the number of people served by Martha’s Table has more than doubled. As Martha’s Table comes upon its 40th anniversary next year, Kim likens the the organization’s larger story to a marathon where this leg of the race is about community, going deep, and supporting and standing alongside the folks who are here.