CLOVER -- Take it, Sam.
Even the sound of it seems strange to people who know Pastor Sam Thompson of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Clover. After all, the man known as Pastor Sam is famous for giving to others, not taking.
"The community owes them a world of thanks," said Elizabeth Hartley of Pastor Sam and his wife, Annie. "They just touch the community in so many areas, it's hard to think of a time when I didn't know Sam and Annie."
Hartley heard of a contest months ago asking Wachovia customers who they would thank. She immediately thought of the Thompsons and their work with the church, along with its thrift shop, mobile food ministry and shelter. Hartley of Lake Wylie wrote up her reasons and sent them off to the bank, which received more than 4,000 other entries nationwide. Months later, Hartley received a call that she, along with the Thompsons, would be the $10,000 grand prize winner.
"I think all my professionalism drained out," Hartley said. "I think all I could say was, 'shut up!"'
But if she was surprised by the phone call, it paled in comparison to the couple's surprise last week.
"Hallelujah, thank you Jesus," were the few words Pastor Sam could say once he saw a throng of cameras, friends and guests at God's Kitchen, the food ministry he began more than a decade ago.
That was before he knew why they were there.
"The first thing that popped in my mind is get out your check book and write a check for a tenth to the church," Pastor Sam said after receiving the $10,000 check. "I've been so blessed, and something like this could not have happened except for a God who loves me so."
The most difficult task ahead of the Thompsons might be figuring out how to spend their contest winnings.
"This is for them to use," Hartley said.
Andrea Bierce, director of customer experience for Wachovia and one of four national judge, called the Thompsons "extraordinary."
Long time thrift store and shelter board member Jack Salter said he "can't think there could be two better people."
"I think it's a blessing," said June Boyd, who prepares meals. "They're always working and doing for others and not themselves."
Boyd hopes the Thompsons will now "take some time to themselves and get away and enjoy it."
After several minutes settling into the scene, Miss Annie started to warm to the idea of having money to spend on themselves.
"We're going to take a vacation," she said. "We're going someplace warm."
Pastor Sam said the excitement proves "serving God will pay off after all," but added a profession of faith to Christ is more rewarding than any check.
"Souls are worth more than dollar bills," he said.
About the Thompsons
Pastor Sam and Miss Annie, as her husband calls her, are the Clover couple many people meet on their worst days. Maybe that territory comes with being a pastor, but the Thompsons' ministry is not one confined to Sunday.
"If it helps the community understand what they do, it's worth it," Hartley said of the Who Would You Thank? competition. "I have so much respect and awe for what they do."
God's Kitchen began as a soup kitchen to feed the sick and shut-ins in the nearby community. It served three meals a week to anyone who needed one in Lake Wylie, Clover, Bowling Green and Oakridge. Now, God's Kitchen serves 125 meals a day, five days a week, including Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
The Thompsons also operate Lighthouse Shelter and Thrift Store. The thrift store helps pay for the ministries, while the shelter serves hundreds each year on a temporary basis. The Thompsons even take in troubled teens, and run a tutoring and mentoring program.
Boyd said, the Thompsons regularly spend their time driving people to job interviews, doctor visits or generally caring for people, even at all hours of the night.
"I'm not going to give up until I see every need I can see met, met," Pastor Sam said.
With or without a contest check last week, the Thompsons and their growing community of volunteers plan to expand their ministries. Last Christmas, a York organization donated $50,000 to help put up a new shelter building with eight rooms each for men and women, along with a kitchen and bathroom. The 8,000-square-foot building also will house the thrift shop.
"We're trying to put it up under one roof," said River Hills resident Brad Kennington, who volunteers at the shelter. He said building permits could be in hand within a week. The Lake Wylie community is one of many areas helping the Thompsons, as well as a key reason why the God's Kitchen building and other facilities went up without mortgages. Hartley, for instance, who attends River Hills Community Church, met the Thompsons when her church worked to raise support.
"If anybody has a heart to help, their door's always open," Kennington said.
For more information about the ministries supported by the Thompsons, or to volunteer or make a donation, call 803-222-0711.