‘Ms. Rose’ Cooks With Passion

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by Maayan Schechter

Story and photo are courtesy of Priority! magazine (Summer 2014). Used with permission.

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She calls herself a paraprofessional, but others call her “Ms. Rose,” or sometimes simply “Mom.”

In the back of a Salvation Army church in Aiken, S.C., Rose Mitchell prepares her home–cooked meals from decades–old recipes passed down by her grandmother, Mary Scott. A homemaker, Scott sold food out of her Aiken home to feed the downtrodden. She was an icon in the neighborhood, and her skills left a lasting impression on Rose.

The menu this day includes a big vat of macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes dripping with fresh gravy, fried chicken donated by Kentucky Fried Chicken, and buttered rolls. Vegetables are missing, which Rose says is very rare; she almost always adds some greens on the side.

The one item that will never touch her kitchen is her grandmother’s signature item—chitlins. Just speaking the word causes Rose to wrinkle up her nose.

“Chitlins are disgusting … and that stench is … I just can’t,” Rose says.

She makes a promise to those who walk in: You will be welcomed, and you will leave with a full and satisfied stomach.

Rose grew up visiting neighbors and family members not too far from Aiken’s downtown. She has four children—two boys and two girls—but really raised at least seven.

After receiving a degree from Voorhees College, Rose decided to forgo a job with Honda and stay with The Salvation Army. Going on seven years come June 20, Rose has prepared meals rain or shine for everyone from children to seniors. Her day doesn’t end in the kitchen, and downtime isn’t a word she uses too often.

“I’m always on my feet helping the ones who come to [get a meal] or to read their mail. Sometimes they want help with paying their bills,” Rose says. She also helps seniors with their medicine and other issues.

Then there’s the two days a week when she styles hair, another job she performs with the utmost passion.

Hard work comes naturally to Rose. When she was only a preteen, she used to perform chores not just for her family, but also for many people around the neighborhood.

“I’d go into my grandmother’s house, give her a kiss, go get a snack out of the fridge, and then hop over the fence and go to an older lady’s house,” she says. “She had this wood stove, so I would clean out the ashes and cut the wood. I’d mop the floors. I never did any of this for money.”

Paul Volz, shelter director, says women like Rose are the heart of the system, one that’s been forced to cut many workers from full– to part–time.

“She’s just amazing,” Volz says. “She’s been here for the long haul, and she’s like a mom here. People … enjoy having someone to come in and see and recognize. Rose is great. She’s helpful and she listens.”

Rose knows her residents so well that if a regular misses a few meals, she follows up without hesitation.

“One of the nicest guys was George, and he would come in and help me clean every time,” Rose says. “He missed a couple of weeks, and then we found out he passed, so we helped out with his funeral and brought food.”

Rose wears a lot of different hats. She is a therapist, cook, hairstylist, and part of the legal team. But every day she walks in to work, she wears her bright smile.

“I love my job, and I just have this passion to work with people,” Rose says. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

This article originally appeared in the Aiken Standard.