Nineteen years ago, the single mother of four began to work at Stewpot, at first just doing tasks such as sweeping the pantry and restocking the shelves. She worked her way up, and around six years ago, when the former director of food services, Nancy Dennis, left the organization, Echols got the position. BOOM Jackson recently talked to Echols about her childhood and her experience at Stewpot.
The idea of helping people. The homeless population ... I saw a lot of that out here in west Jackson. ... I just wanted to work somewhere that can help them.
... I just remember seeing my mom help a lot of people that were down on the street. ... (My mom) would go in and fix sandwiches or drinks for anyone that was in need that passed by the house back in the early '70s and early '80s, and she just instilled that in her children.
What has your experience been like as the director of food services?
I'm helping, but it's also helping me to see how far I've come because I grew up in the system on food stamps and free housing. (I've) just been blessed and try to help as many people as I can. ... I worked here for so long part-time, sweeping the pantry, passing out groceries, keeping the pantry stocked. It paid off for me ... to get the position as being the director.
Tell me more about your childhood.
I grew up around a lot of happy times, but also sad times. When the drugs hit out west (Jackson), that was a bad time. I never did get into drugs, but a lot of family members got into that. I lost my mom 10 years ago. Two days later, I lost a best friend of stomach cancer. Six months later I lost my twin brother. But I'm still going. I've been though the storm. (It's) just life. I'm also purchasing my home through Stewpot on Bratton Street. Next month is my last payment, and I will officially own my first home.
It's just a blessing to have a place like that because we help people from Madison, Rankin County; I've even had them come from Copiah County. ... They come in, and they just tell you how thankful they are for a place like this because if it wasn't for this, they don't know how they would make it. I see some people that get a good check, but they've just fallen on hard times, and that makes me feel good to be able to help them. We also get assistance from a place called Gleaners, where we get fresh fruits and vegetables, and I love to see that come in to help the elderly, rather than give them the canned beans, and the different cans, when the fresher things are healthier for them.
What is one moment that has stuck out in your mind since you started as director of food services?
There were three old ladies, and they were, like, in their late 60s or early 70s. They were regulars, and they used to sit and tell how they would walk from (points) A to B back in the '60s ... and they were cleaning houses and things. I just love the stories. On one occasion, two came without the other one and told me that one of them had passed over the weekend.
That's what you see a lot of, too. Your senior citizens who you get to have a relationship with—they enjoy seeing you, you enjoy (seeing them). Then all of a sudden they stop coming, and then you hear that one of them has passed or something or is down sick. I also have a few individuals who I take groceries to that can't get out. You know, they don't have a ride or stuff like that.
How have you seen the organization help the community?
It has helped them where people can come and get a hot meal. People can come and get coats in the winter, clothes all through the year, and the food. With the SNAP program that's going on now, it has affected a lot of individuals as far as cutting a lot of people.
We're able to take up that slack.