When the Rev. Sam Thompson started his Clover soup kitchen 14 years ago, in a predominantly white neighborhood, he had one pot of soup.
This black preacher didn’t care if the people who came to God’s Kitchen were black or white, or convicted criminals, or just down on their luck.
“We had a pot of soup twice of week; we fed people ’til the soup was gone,” Thompson said. “Word got around. More people out there that were hungry than we knew. They started to come to eat.
“They were white and they were black and they sure were hungry. We fed them all. We still do, a lot of them. Thousands of meals a month. Tens of thousands in a year.”
Three years ago in York, Bunny Wells, was attending Wesley United Methodist Church – a predominantly black church in a predominantly black neighborhood.
Driving back and forth to what two generations ago was the all-black Jefferson High School, she saw the hungry.
Instead of driving past them and going out for lunch, Wells started a soup kitchen.
The people who came to the Grace and Mercy Soup Kitchen first were black, then black and white, then black and white and Hispanic.
This past winter and spring,
she sometimes served more than 200 people in a day. Some were families who had nothing else.
“The hungry need us,” Wells said. “They are out there. We can’t go to them. They have to come to us.”
After all these years, and a men’s homeless shelter later,Clover’s Thompson was stunned when he heard this week that some people in Fort Mill don’t want a soup kitchen in the Paradise neighborhood.
Paradise is a predominantly black neighborhood, a proud place of wonderful people where the segregated George Fish High School used to be.
It is a place where the people love their neighborhood and want nobody to ruin what they have worked so hard for. They worry about bad apples ruining their barrel – about felons, bums or drunks showing up for meals.
Thompson’s only concern in Clover is having enough food for all the hungry, because donations are down in this crummy economy.
A few times over the years, few enough to count on his hands, he has had to call police to have someone removed from the soup kitchen, but that is it.
“The whole idea is: We save folks; they become savers for others,” Thompson said. “God will protect those who do for others. We get the elderly, the homeless, the invisible.
“Supposing any one of those people who don’t want a soup kitchen had a son or daughter hungry, out there in the street. Poverty, hard times, they don’t know any color, brother.”
There are some from outside the Paradise neighborhood who also don’t want the soup kitchen in Fort Mill. They are loud and they like attention.
Maybe they are not hungry, or ever have been, but they like to tell others where the hungry can go – somewhere else.
Paradise is filled with great people of all ages. Several years ago I wrote about a seventh-grade kid named Vince Brown, who alerted his Paradise neighbors when their house was on fire. Nobody got hurt.
The lady whose was saved was Naomi Kiser, and she had a son named T.J. Everett. Kiser, thankful for the actions of neighbor Vince Brown, said Paradise is “where people look out for each other. One big family.”
Everett, her son, went to Nation Ford High School, where my two daughters go, before attending Winthrop University They are still friends. He looked out for my kids, and still does. He did just the other night when a big bunch of friends went bowling together.
One big family, with roots in Paradise that reach right into my own house in another part of Fort Mill.
Ruby Watts has lived in Paradise all of her 72 years. This neighborhood ambassador has cooked countless meals for neighbors and strangers alike. She raised her own kids and helped raise some others. A girl she took into her home a few years ago just graduated college.
Watts understands the concerns of her neighbors, as well as the urge to help people.
“People around here are good people, caring people,” Watts said. “Some just are worried about what the kitchen would bring. You can see both sides.”
Bunny Wells in York knows the concerns of those in Paradise. Her kitchen is in a similar neighborhood in a similar city 20 miles away. Her soup kitchen is surrounded by proud people who have worked hard to make their homes safe.
But Wells said the idea of a soup kitchen is to serve people who are starving or homeless or drifting – people on the verge of desperation that might lead to crime. Or families with kids, or the old.
“We have people who come here, years ago, I would have locked my own doors from them,” Wells said. “But the only thing they have ever done ... is come here with empty stomachs.
“I had one guy, once, steal two bags of food and run. He came back three weeks later, apologized, said his family was starving. That’s why he took the food. We loaded him up with more food.”
Almost 25 years ago, Brother David Boone and a whirlwind named Bev Carroll started the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen on Rock Hill’s Crawford Road, in a Catholic church built to serve a black neighborhood.
It sits across the street from the former Emmett Scott High School for blacks.
That soup kitchen works because hundreds of volunteers from dozens of places, churches and civic groups, white and black, serve people of all races. They have served meals for six days a week for so many years, tens of thousands of meals to anyone who shows up.
They have no police problem.
Carroll and others were asked to help the Fort Mill people who want to start a soup kitchen. They spoke to the Fort Mill Town Council on Monday because to open in Paradise, the soup kitchen would need a zoning change to the property.
Those opposed to the soup kitchen also spoke, and presented a petition with about 200 signatures.
Since that day, Sam Thompson has fed hundreds of hungry people in Clover.
Bunny Wells closes her York kitchen during September because it is church revival season. She uses the time before re-opening next month to collecting donations. Her kitchen will now be open three days a week instead of two, to meet a larger than ever need.
The soup kitchen in Rock Hill, since the debate over Fort Mill’s soup kitchen erupted, has fed hundreds of people, including homeless children, each day.
Fort Mill’s politicians tabled a decision on a soup kitchen, or where it might be – if it ever opens.
In Fort Mill, in a neighborhood called Paradise, people decided they will wait, maybe forever, to see if they might feed their hungry.