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‘Welcome Home Bags’ give a helping hand

Note: This special guest blog was written by Keith Patterson, Orange County Local Reentry Council Coordinator.

‘Wow, this is too much’

I looked at one of my newest clients as he accepted one of the “Welcome Home Bags” donated to the Local Reentry Council. If I could try to capture the feeling some of our clients have when they receive a Welcome Home Bag at intake, it would be the look in their eyes. It is a combination of deep gratitude and relief.

Most of our clients come home with very little, and more often than that, nothing but state shoes and their jacket of release papers—and of course—a wealth of worry about how to access just the basic human necessities like soap and a toothbrush. These “Welcome Home Bags” are more than just the contents. They are community, acceptance and recognition. They are an understanding that soap and toothbrushes are not "too much" but necessities. They are the tangible extension of human connection.

Coming home isn’t as simple as walking through the prison gates. For most, it is a daunting task which requires tons of support and a myriad of resources to merely gain a semblance of stability.

That's why, in an effort to coordinate resources and organize assistance for the formerly incarcerated returning to Orange County, the Local Reentry Council distributes these “Welcome Home Bags” to newly released clients. Inspired by our counterparts in Durham County, and with the help of LRC Executive Committee member Anna Richards, through the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Religious Affairs Committee, the LRC has been able to facilitate this program with great success.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Religious Affairs Committee has supplied over one hundred “Welcome Home Bags,” even recruiting area youth to assist with the collection of basic items such as, toothpaste, soap, socks, feminine products and gift cards. These items provide needed relief to persons faced with the stressful and sometimes traumatic responsibility of integrating back into society.

The Local Reentry Council is tasked with coordinating resources in order to form a network of community based organizations and individual to advocate for the needs of justice involved individuals. To further address barriers and promote successful reentry, “Welcome Bags” also include information on voting rights, restoration legal services and an Orange County resource guide. The LRC is grateful to our community partners and look forward to future collaborations in the mission of reducing the rate of recidivism in Orange County.

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