Four years in, Aje Hill still doesn’t have an office.
When he started the I Believe in Me mentorship and leadership development program in 2016, his primary resources were his personality, his backstory and a 2002, white Dodge Caravan.
“No heat. No radio. The ceiling was falling down. The seats had holes in them,” said Hill, who graduated from Frederick High School in 1999 and overcame his troubled past as a drug dealer. “But it was full of love and laughter inside of that car for the hope we are trying to provide.”
On Thursday afternoon, Hill had another long line of people in need of hope in the parking lot of Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started hammering the economy in March, knocking already at-risk people out of their jobs, Hill has been doing regular food drops at various locations across Frederick through I Believe in Me.
So, the four vehicles that now serve the organization were in full use once again Thursday.
“It’s definitely been a pleasure and an honor to serve the community in different locations and meet the hunger and security needs due to this pandemic,” Hill said while observing his team of volunteers at work to meet Thursday’s need.
Through some recent accounting, Hill learned that I Believe in Me has served 31,226 people with more than 50,000 pounds of food over the past 31 weeks.
Roughly 35 volunteers have worked at 65 no-questions-asked food drops, with 15 to 20 of the volunteers serving consistently.
“We were doing three food drops a week when this first started,” said one of the regular volunteers, Brad Young, who also serves as the president of the Frederick County Board of Education.
Young has been an invaluable member of Hill’s team, helping him to navigate the logistical challenges of acquiring, storing and distributing that much food.
“Through our friendship, Brad told me he had a master’s degree,” Hill said. “I told him we are going to put that master’s degree to work.”
Through its mentorship aspect, I Believe in Me already provided meals to kids in need. But, at the onset of the pandemic, he saw a much greater need. So, he greatly expanded his outreach.
“What about the young man that wakes up that doesn’t have a Pop Tart? That doesn’t have orange juice? Doesn’t have an alarm clock? Doesn’t have a mentor? Doesn’t have those support systems?” Hill said.
“Do we just throw them in the garbage can? Or do we provide hope?”
Hill said he hopes the food drops give people “the items they had in their home before COVID-19.”
After more than 31,000 served, Hill said, “It just assures me that we are serving a purpose. This community is stronger than ever, even through crisis.”