When the country was hit by the coronavirus pandemic in March and communities across Long Beach began to feel its devastating effects, she didn't hesitate for a moment to extend a helping hand.
But that's just how Naomi Rainey-Pierson operates.
When residents across the city found themselves ill-prepared and ill-equipped to face the effects and closures brought on by the virus, the NAACP Long Beach branch president quickly assembled her team and began collecting as many face masks and gloves she could find.
The branch had already received 60 requests for face masks in early April from local nursing students, New Hope Home, 100 Black Men of Long Beach and the National Council of Negro Women. Concerned about the disproportionate impact that African Americans faced from the coronavirus, Rainey-Pierson distributed more than 500 face masks within a week of the requests.
"The number one thing about me is I believe in God," Rainey-Pierson said. "And I have been very blessed in life. God says it. Martin Luther King, Jr. says it. The way to reduce poverty is to help the hungry, to the clothe the unclothed, by sharing."
She grew up in a small farming town in Aberdeen, Miss., called "The Porters," during the Civil Rights Era in the 1950s and '60s. She doesn't consider her southern roots as a positive experience, just different.
"As a little girl, when we finished work on our farm, we helped the next farmer with their work," she said. "They helped and they shared."
After moving to the Antelope Valley, a 14-year-old Rainey-Pierson became involved with her local NAACP branch, an organization that would become a huge part of her life.
Rainey-Pierson attended Cal State Long Beach, graduating in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts. She continued her pursuit of knowledge and earned two master’s degrees and several teaching credentials. In 1987, the school's College of Education presented her with its Distinguished Alumna Award.
More than 20 years later, she was honored with the CSULB President’s Distinguished Service Award; and in 2012, because of her time with the CSULB Alumni Association and as a long-time donor to the Rainey-Pierson Scholarship, the college named its Residence Hall C in Hillside College “The Naomi Rainey House.”
She served as an educator and administrator in the Long Beach Unified and Compton Unified school districts.
In 2019, Rainey-Pierson received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, presented to her by President Jane Close Conoley.
Rainey-Pearson's life trajectory — as an educator, in real estate, as a civil rights activist — eventually led her to the Long Beach branch NAACP, where has served as president since 2000.
Throughout her sprawling career, she has received special honors for her efforts, including: Soroptimist International Woman of the Year, California Conference for Equality and Justice Humanitarian Award, Cancer League Hero of Long Beach, and City of Long Beach Martin Luther King, Jr. Peacemaker Award.
By May, Rainey-Pierson had collected nearly 20,000 gloves and masks through donations from Dignity Health St. Mary Medical Center and Sung Won Ra, owner of Beauty 4U in North Long Beach. Another two distribution events took place at the New Hope Homes Senior Housing facility and the Carmelitos Housing Project, where residents of the facilities and neighbors in the community were given family-sized boxes of masks and gloves as needed.
"Many things have changed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing that has flourished throughout our community is kindness — people helping other people get through this difficult time — together," said Carolyn Caldwell, SMMC Hospital president. "The dedication exhibited by community member Naomi Rainey is inspiring. We know that access to healthcare and resources are limited in particular areas and recognize this through our community benefit and outreach work."
"The support the hospital and healthcare workers have received from the community during this pandemic has been heartwarming, so it is wonderful that we are able to pay it forward and help others during this challenging time," she added. "Being able to donate thousands of much-needed personal protective equipment, especially masks, to our most vulnerable population is critical to ensuring their health and well-being, and St. Mary is honored to be able to help and partner with the NAACP."
By the end of August, more than 280,000 masks and gloves had been distributed across the city, including the Long Beach Central Area Association, New Hope Church, Guardian Scholars-CSULB, to NAACP senior and youth members and through a general distribution at the branch's Belmont Shore office via mail to requests from Districts 6, 7 and 9 residents.
She didn't stop there.
The branch expanded its community support offerings in June, gathering money donations to purchase gift cards to grocery stores. The branch has since supported around 60 families struggling to afford groceries for the last three months.
"I chose to to purchase the gift cards rather than buy the groceries ourselves so that families could use the money as they needed, and so we weren't having a bunch of people handle their food," she said.
Rainey-Pearson said she has no plans to slow down her efforts of extending help to others.
What the world needs more of, Rainey-Pearson said, is compassion.
"Just help someone along the way," she said.