Topeka K. Sam founded the Ladies of Hope Ministries in 2015 with a mission to help disenfranchised and marginalized women and girls transition back into society.
Topeka knew the challenge firsthand. While incarcerated, she saw how many other women inside were struggling with substance misuse and had truly horrific stories of sexual violence and physical abuse. She saw how our current legal system wasn’t set up to help women cope with their past traumas or succeed after they were released, and stepped in to change that.
With COVID-19 pandemic underway, this work is more important now than ever. The virus is spreading rapidly in prisons across the country due to overcrowding and lack of proper cleaning supplies. But facilities are not the only spaces impacted. The effects of COVID-19 are felt through all corners of the justice system, including people navigating various stages of reentry who are seeing their housing, food access and jobs fall away.
And, a partnership with City Harvest in New York City has allowed LOHM to deliver thousands of pounds of food a week to shelters and nursing homes in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
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During one week in April, Topeka and her team visited a domestic violence shelter with 87 units, each housing at least one child. They deliver food, cash cards, and other necessities the families could be having a hard time accessing, as many women are formerly incarcerated and tasked with supporting their families on a fixed income. One little boy walked up to Topeka, with his face lighting up at the sight of the delivery and told her he’d never seen that much food in his life.
“It broke my heart,” Topeka said.
On top of all the other challenges, children are having to navigate distance learning despite limited to no access to computers or the internet to do their schoolwork. Topeka says she’s seen children huddled on stoops, trying to get connected to wifi. So, the LOHM is working on a partnership to deliver mobile WiFi hotspots to families in need.
These types of challenges already existed for people transitioning back into society after incarceration, but they’re magnified by the current COVID-19 pandemic. While women already tend to have fewer resources to support them through the reentry process, Topeka says that women are uniquely vulnerable in this time. Being houseless, for example, can leave them susceptible to sex trafficking and human trafficking, she says. Ensuring safety for women and access to housing, food, jobs and the internet are top of mind for Topeka and the LOHM.
If you’d like to support the work of Topeka and the Ladies of Hope Ministry, or any of the other organizations working to support system-impacted people through COVID-19, please donate here.