For 18 years, the Rev. Sam Thompson housed and fed the homeless in Clover at his God’s Kitchen soup kitchen and New Beginnings Baptist Church shelter.
In January, after his house was destroyed by fire, Thompson found himself just like the people he helps – homeless.
So the 76-year-old great-grandfather with two artificial knees, an artificial hip and a smile that will not cease moved into the shelter with his male clients. His wife, philanthropist “Miss Annie” Thompson, stayed with the female homeless on the campus – a bunch of buildings tied together by a shoestring of donations and love.
“You learn in many ways in life, even at my age, and this experience has renewed my commitment to the people who have nowhere to go, nowhere to live,” Thompson said. “I have been right there living with them for the past months, and I know more than ever that the work that we do, and others do, for the downtrodden is God’s work.”
Finally this week, the planning to rebuild the Thompsons’ demolished house turned into a home. A modular home was delivered Thursday and set atop the foundation. In about a month, maybe less, the Thompsons – who have devoted their lives to the poorest in western York County – will have their own house again.
“We had to go in debt again, but who among us lives for free?” Thompson said. “None of us. We shall make this our greatest, strongest home yet.”
After the fire, the York Baptist Association, several Lake Wylie and Clover churches, businesses and other groups, and individuals raised thousands of dollars for the Thompsons to keep the shelter and soup kitchen running. They also started a building fund to help the couple pay for expenses not covered by insurance.
Donations of money, time and work came from white and black, rich and poor, strangers and those who know the Thompsons.
“We were blessed by so many, from so many places,” Thompson said. “We can only thank the generosity of all these people.”
Sam and Miss Annie have never accepted a penny for all they do for the poor. All the proceeds that came in since the January fire went to the house and ministries. The house will be in the name of the church.
“Jesus Christ wore sandals, not Stacy Adams shoes,” Thompson said. “He wore a rough robe, not a silk suit. He worried not about property or belongings or what he owned or did not own.
“I try to do what I have learned through Christ, which is to not worry about what I have, but that others are in need and I must help them.”
Cline Builders of Rock Hill provided at a discounted price a modular house it had been using as a model home, and the new house sits right next to the men’s shelter.
Shelter residents are working alongside the contracting company that is finishing the house. They are fixing up the grounds and cleaning up debris from the fire. Tony Perry, a concrete finisher and brick mason staying at the shelter temporarily, did concrete work. Others are doing what other things need to be done.
There are guys in wrinkled shirts who quietly work and say nothing as they try to find a way back into a life of their own. Some of the men have been at the shelter for a week or longer, others for just a few days.
“Every person has worth,” Thompson said. “We do not look at where a person has been, we look at what they can do and where they can go from here.”
All the clients pitch in, even a guy everybody knows as “Happy.”
“I came here weeks ago and couldn’t even walk, barely,” Norman “Happy” Lawing said. “Pastor accepted me, took me in, and here I am now with a hammer in my hand.
“I survived, because of this man.”
No man ever deserved a place to live more than the Rev. Sam Thompson and his wife of 53 years, Miss Annie, Happy said.
Thompson sat nearby, refusing to accept any praise other than a chance to help more people.
“Here he is sitting here in his coveralls,” Happy said. “He doesn’t even have a place to live, and he makes sure people like me have a roof over their head and a second chance.
“The man, he is what Jesus Christ is all about.”