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Kansas woman continues hunger strike outside KDOL

Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 5:04 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Re’Nae Pherigo, the woman on a hunger strike at the KDOL building, spoke with 13 News about her decision to do so.

“I don’t know if people know how determined I am or not but I am definitely not moving. I’m not giving up until a solution is found,” she said.

Pherigo is staging a hunger strike to draw attention to all the people waiting to receive their unemployment benefits. Pherigo said she worked 10 years in emergency medical services from Arizona, to Sedgwick County to volunteering in Conway Springs.

She now has no job and family at home in Wellington and is among those awaiting benefits.

“I had a little girl last February and that pregnancy was awful and I was bed-ridden most of the time and then right after having her, is when the pandemic started so it’s a combination of things and to say that any one of them is the reason isn’t the whole truth,” she said.

“It’s very hard to explain and I know that everyone’s situation is like that and so it’s just hard to know what to do next and this is what I know how to do so this is what I’m going to do.”

She wanted to help those without a voice.

“My family is absolutely the most important thing in the world but who is going to stand up for everyone else when no one else is.”

A Facebook group she started to gain support had more than 700 members by Friday afternoon. The Facebook group is called Unemployment Hunger Strike Supporters. She routinely goes live to share where she is at in her unemployment claim process.

“I had no idea it would turn into what it is now but I’m definitely willing to stick it out.”

She wrote in a letter to KDOL that she also sent to us -- “I have seen agony. I have lived in the presence of grief. I have stared death in the face on countless occasions.”

Pherigo said she’s involved with other Facebook groups, filled with Kansans sharing their frustrations and struggles with the unemployment system.

She said in one instance, she saw a woman send a screenshot of a post of a man saying publicly that he was giving up and would take his own life. She said she reached out to talk the man down and within 10 minutes, was talking on the phone with him and helped him not commit suicide.

“It’s just amazing how if that would have waited at all that would have been one more life because nobody is doing anything,” she said.

She said those thoughts reached her mind as well at one point.

“I texted my husband on my birthday and said, ‘Babe I might need to go to a hospital, I don’t really know what else to do,’ and he came home and we talked about it and he was like those thoughts aren’t real like it’s being caused by something that can be fixed.”

She came in contact with a KDOL employee on Monday. The employee told her that her husband’s unemployment claims were okay and asked her about her work history.

“He seemed kind of caught off guard by my answer and he said okay and walked inside and I haven’t heard from anybody since. No one,” she said.

13 News has received messages questioning her actions.

She was treated Thursday at a hospital for dehydration. In a Facebook post Friday, she said the doctor questioned her about staying outside with no food or water. Pherigo said she then got dressed out of her hospital gown and left.

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