By Jessica Brodie
DARLINGTON—When Herb Thompson heard God call him to “feed My sheep,” he thought the Lord meant spiritually.
It turns out God was calling him, with the help of two Timmonsville United Methodist churches, to start a new food ministry for people in need.
Thompson had spent 20 years in the music ministry, and he was not sure what God had planned for him next. He had grown up in the restaurant business, so showing love through cooking came naturally, but he wasn’t accustomed to cooking as a ministry. While he’d been cooking for a neighbor who’d recently had an operation, the full scope of God’s vision was not clear.
One day, he went to the Rev. Greg Davis, pastor of the Pine Grove-Salem Charge in Timmonsville.
“He said, ‘Greg, the Lord’s been telling me He needs me to do something, but I’m not exactly sure what. I’m hearing Him tell me ‘feed my sheep,’ Davis said. “So I said, ‘OK, I’ll pray for you and see if you can get clarity on that.’”
The next week, Thompson went to church and casually asked some of the widows if they’d be interested in a home-cooked meal.
They said yes.
“I started cooking and delivering the meals, and I did 13 meals that first week!” Thompson said. “One of my elderly ladies said, ‘I’ll help you deliver.’”
That was a year ago. As of the Advocate’s press time, Thompson and his team are now providing 85 meals a week, all cooked in Thompson’s kitchen on his wife’s little four-burner stove.
The week the Advocate spoke with him, they served sloppy joes, corn and potato salad. Other weeks it’s chicken bog, pork tenderloin, hot dogs, baked chicken or barbeque. All meals are served with two vegetables, and the church provides desserts and boxes so everything is taken care of.
“I started cooking at a very early age, 9 years old, and when everybody else went out to play, I went to cook. So when I cook, I don’t cook small,” Thompson said. “I’ve got to build me a kitchen. God’s been helping me save a little, so now I’m building a commercial kitchen in the backyard. I don’t know where this thing’s headed, but just I’m going to allow God to say ‘go here, and go here and go here.’”
Davis said one of the churches, Salem UMC, had been serving seniors a free lunch once a month, and they have partnered with Thompson and now provide help with delivery and cooking. The plates of food go to anyone in need, whether shut-ins, widows or anybody who would like a hot meal.
“It’s for all who come to the table is the way I like to say it,” Thompson said. “This is a God thing—it’s for whoever.”
“Herb cooks all day Tuesday, and the members of my two churches come to his house, box things up, cook desserts to go with, put them all in bags and we distribute from there,” Davis said. “We all go out on individual routes and deliver.”
It’s not just the extra hands to help that have poured in. Financial help, too, has followed. Thompson said he’s only had to pay for the first week of meals.
“I have not spent a penny since then—God has just flowed through this,” Thompson said.
For instance, a neighbor gave $100 toward the cause last week, and the other night, a knock came at the door; it was someone with a surprise $300 contribution for the ministry.
“It doesn’t cost much,” Thompson said. “I got meals down to $1.20/meal for a full meal, meat and two veggies, and sometimes it’s $1.30 or $1.40, but I keep good tabs. It’s like God said, ‘OK, you’re obedient, and I’m going to reward your obedience.’”
He said the drivers are responsible for their people, and he’s responsible for the food.
“I say, ‘If you see a need, go and ask if they want a plate of food, and you are responsible for that person. You call me Sunday night with the number of people, Monday I shop, Tuesday I cook, and Tuesday at 4:30 you show up to get your food,’” Thomspson said.
Many come early, too, at 3:30 p.m., to fix the plates and help Thompson and his wife of nearly 50 years bag up the plates.
“It’s almost like a family,” Davis said. “It’s just exciting to see God move in a way that was kind of unexpected. Most of the time those things a pastor drives, and if pastor is driving a particular project or movement in a church it usually evaporates shortly after the pastor leaves, but when it’s driven by the members and their hearts, driven by God, it will keep on going.”
That’s the whole idea, Thompson said.
“I’m up for whatever God wants,” Thompson said. “We serve Timmonsville, Lamar and Darlington, a triangle in our community, and God will never put on me more than I can handle. If He wants me to do 1,000 meals a week, I’ll do 1000 meals a week. Whatever He needs.”
Anyone who wants more information about the food ministry can reach out to Thompson at 843-621-0641 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or write 1916 South Center Rd., Darlington, SC 29532.
By Jessica Brodie