Step by step, a Stony Brook man is helping to provide a comfortable place to sleep for those in need.
On Sept. 25, 66-year-old Kenny Rogers embarked on a 277-mile walking trip dubbed Miles for Mattresses to raise funds for the Open Door Exchange — an outreach program of the Setauket Presbyterian Church created to collect furniture to distribute to those in need. Rogers said his goal is to raise $22,021 to purchase mattresses and box springs for the 177 people on the furniture bank’s waiting list for the items. The hope is that the walk will generate buzz and inspire donors to contribute to the cause. The organization has an agreement with Big Lots to purchase mattress and box spring sets for an average of $159.
Rogers’ 277-mile mission began at Wider Circle, which the Long Island furniture bank is modeled after, in Silver Spring, Maryland, and will end Oct. 14 at the Open Door Exchange in Port Jefferson Station. Rogers, who is retired from the Suffolk County Department of Social Services and volunteers with Open Door Exchange, said it feels good to be able to give to others. He said it was frustrating at his former job to help people find housing but then they were on their own when it came to furnishings.
The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, director of Open Door Exchange, said more than half a dozen congregants of Setauket Presbyterian Church, of which Rogers is a member, and volunteers from Wider Circle were on hand to cheer him on, and a handful of them walked the first couple of miles with him, while others stayed behind to help out at Wider Circle.
“We had a wonderful reception from Wider Circle,” Calone said.
Arlene Rogers, who accompanied her husband to Maryland, said she was proud of him.
“He has a very big generous heart,” she said. “He is very determined. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. I back him wholeheartedly.”
Eli Kopp, who turned 14 Sept. 25 and is an eighth-grader at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, also traveled to Maryland to walk the first 14 miles with Rogers.
“It’s really great that Kenny had the idea to do this walk as a way to raise money for Open Door Exchange,” Eli said. “Open Door Exchange is a great organization that helps so many people who are in need and helping out there is also a lot of fun.”
Rogers said he’ll mostly travel along US Route 1, and along the way he’ll stop at churches to eat and rest. Setauket Presbyterian’s pastor the Rev. Mary Speers, and Calone networked with churches along the route to coordinate the accommodations.
Rogers said he started preparing for the trip in January by walking two miles around his neighborhood and then he slowly increased the distance. Right before his 277-mile mission, he was walking the more than three-mile Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail both ways with a backpack three quarters filled with weights. Walking didn’t always come easy for Rogers. He said the first few years of his life he was unable to do so, and doctors thought he might have cerebral palsy. However, when he was 4 years old, he said he just started walking one day.
Miles for Mattresses is the second walk he has organized to raise money for charity. In May 2016, Rogers traveled 50 miles on foot from his childhood neighborhood of Chelsea, Brooklyn, to Stony Brook to raise funds for the American Cancer Society in honor of his best friend who died of lung cancer.
Speers said church members and others were supportive of his last walk and she knows his current one will be a success, too.
“The Setauket Presbyterian Church is very giving especially when it’s for a mission or to help people,” Speers said. “They’ll open up their pockets for that. So, the church gave a lot, and lots of his friends and just people in his world, his former co-workers, people like that really gave a lot, and he felt good doing it.”
The pastor said she was unable to join Rogers in Maryland due to recent hip surgery, so she is looking forward to joining him and others at the end of his trip, even if she needs a golf cart to do so.
“It should be a lot of fun,” Speers said. ”It would be like a victory lap.”
Rogers said while he’s looking forward to seeing everyone at the end of his walk, the end of such a mission leaves him with mixed feelings.
“When you’re done with it — you prepared for something like this — when it’s over, it’s a let down,” Rogers said. “I feel good that I did it, but now what do I do? This is what I’ve been working for a certain amount of time.”
Calone said Setauket Presbyterian congregants are in awe of Rogers.
“It’s just so inspiring,” Calone said. “Kenny is just this wonderfully positive and energetic and selfless and generous person who just thinks about really concrete ways that he can help people, and he’s done that his whole life.”
The Open Door Exchange will post updates on Miles for Mattresses on its Facebook page. At press time, Rogers had already raised nearly $8,000 toward his goal. For more information or to donate online, visit www.facebook.com/opendoorexchange or www.opendoorexchange.org.