JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - In a transitional home in South Jackson, a woman has been at work putting together care packages for first responders, elderly residents and families in need.
This is Pauline Rogers’ way of fighting what she calls the “invisible monster” - the coronavirus pandemic that had infected more 1,600 people in Mississippi and killed 43 as of Sunday (April 5).
On Wednesday, surrounded by piles of rice, hand sanitizer wipes and diapers, Rogers methodically sorted donated food and supplies into paper bags.
“We just want them to know we’re supporting them, because I can’t imagine being on the front line like they are, looking at death every single day,” she said.
Rogers founded the RECH Foundation more than 30 years ago with her husband, Freddie Rogers. RECH stands for Reaching and Educating for Community Hope and the organization focuses on helping formerly incarcerated people and children of prisoners.
The Rogers met while imprisoned at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. They now run transitional homes for women leaving prison and estimates 1,700 women have come through her doors. Some stay only for a few nights, others live there for up to three years.
With no residents at the time, the transitional home in South Jackson was transformed into a base of operations for Rogers’ care package assembly line. Normally, Pauline Rogers said, they would be working out of a church warehouse with hundreds of volunteers.
However, she’s scaling things down to abide by the social distancing guidelines recommended by public health officials. The prepared bags and boxes of supplies will eventually be handed off to a group of volunteers who have been helping people in the community.
“It’s hard to get it out during this pandemic,” she said.
The prior week Rogers said her foundation gave to Jackson hospitals 15,000 masks her foundation had received as a donation before the outbreak of the pandemic.
“If we remember our neighbors, remember our sisters, remember our brothers, that is the ultimate gift,” Rogers said. “It’s to love your neighbor as yourself and this gives an opportunity to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Rogers said she’s concerned about people in Mississippi prisons, particularly geriatric and sick inmates that are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. She hopes state leaders will begin compassionately releasing prisoners. Other civil rights organizations have also called on the release of at-risk inmates, but the state has so far resisted doing so.
Rogers said she’s dedicated her life to helping others because she knows what it’s like to not have much.
When she was 9 years old, Rogers’ mother killed her father in an act of self defense, she said.
As the oldest of 11 children, it was her responsibility to care for her siblings. To feed her family, she would dress her brothers and sisters up and take them to any funerals taking place within walking distance, she said.
There, she could always find entire casseroles, cakes and pans of bread to take home.
She was arrested multiple times for shoplifting and she ended up sentenced to six years in prison as a habitual offender, Rogers said. In prison she met Wendy Hatcher, Mississippi Department of Corrections’ first woman chaplain. Rogers credits Hatcher with helping her turn her life around.
After leaving prison, Rogers didn’t have anywhere to go. In opposition to prison system rules, Hatcher took her in and helped her find employment.
The RECH Foundation’s transitional home for women is named after Hatcher.
Rogers said she’s paying Hatcher’s kindness forward to everyone she tries to help in her life. She hopes others will do the same.
“If you’re in your power to do good for somebody else, (then) bless somebody else,” Rogers said. “That’s the biggest thing.
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