The Rev. Sam Thompson sat Thursday at the kitchen table of his house, which sits between homeless shelters for men and women, a soup kitchen and thrift store he has run for 20 years.
There is never enough money – and a year ago to the day, there wasn’t even a house.
Thompson’s house burned down after a blanket was left too close to a space heater.
“With us almost in it,” said Thompson, 77, who on Sunday will mark 30 years of pastoring at New Beginnings Baptist Church. “I got everybody out with nothing but the undies I had on.”
The family had to bunk with the homeless in the shelters for months. Over the past year, the home was rebuilt with donations of money and donations of work by shelter residents and more.
So a year later, Thompson’s wife of 53 years, Annie “Ms. Annie” Thompson, who slept in the women’s shelter with her daughters and granddaughter, called the house what it is: “Our home.”
The Thompsons, who in their 70s have to make a mortgage payment every month, still gush with praise for all who helped them – from churches to individuals, to former clients who gave pocket money.
“We can never thank people enough,” Sam Thompson said, “so to thank all people we continue to do what we have for so long – help others.”
That cold January morning a year ago – it was 16 degrees – shelter resident Lucas Dunnavant, whom the Thompsons call their “adopted son,” ran from the men’s shelter to the women’s shelter. He climbed the stairs through the smoke and would not stop until all the women were out. The fire in the house next to the shelter was so hot that the old siding on the shelter melted. The buildings are just feet apart.
“I told them to follow my voice to get out,” said Dunnavant, 20. “They have taught me here for so long to care about others first. So that’s what I did.”
When the Thompsons are asked to take a family portrait, the clients nearby are asked to sit or stand with them.
“We are all family,” Sam Thompson said. “God’s family.”
The Thompsons, starting with absolutely nothing but faith, kept the store and soup kitchen, which feeds the community and more than 100 shut-ins five days a week, and both homeless shelters open without interruption after the fire. God’s Kitchen kept cooking. Lighthouse Shelter never turned off the beacon that guides the broke and broken to a safe port in a storm. Lighthouse Thrift Store continued to sell used items to people looking for bargains, giving away clothes and household items to those who have nothing.
Even as the family was living side-by-side with the clients.
“Mr. Thompson took care of people even when he didn’t have a coat himself,” said resident and client Dennis McFadden, who works as a volunteer in the thrift store that helps pay for the ministries that help people just like him.
Another client who lives at the shelter, Lisa Fratantuono, works as the secretary for the ministries.
“Pastor Sam and Ms. Annie believe in me,” she said. “And everyone here.”
Sam Thompson has had two knee replacements, but he still walks the campus of old buildings – and now one new building – with time for everybody. He counsels and helps and always, prays.
The shelters have beds and bathrooms and hope. The kitchen has donated food, and if there is not enough, the Thompsons hustle and scrape and scratch and find more – even if it means their own house does not have food.
Late in the evenings, when all the homeless are inside and the food is cooked and eaten, and the dishes are washed, Rev. Thompson, with his smile that never stops, and his wife, who care for all in western York County who have no one else, finally collapse into their new bed in their new house.
Prayers are said before bed. Prayers are said when feet hit the floor in the morning.
“That fire took the house; it didn’t take away what we try to do,” Sam Thompson said. “Help people and love people. No fire can burn God from our hearts.”