Posted on September 07, 2017 12:42
Sheila Thompson’s sisters always say she missed her calling.
She should’ve been a teacher, they say, a natural-born caregiver with an affinity for helping people. While she’s not a teacher in the usual sense, Thompson hopes she can still touch the lives of children while encouraging others to count their blessings and pass it on as a “hunger hero.”
This Sunday, Thompson – along with friends, family and other volunteers – will host a No Kid Hungry bake sale, supporting the Share Our Strength organization’s national campaign fighting childhood hunger.
The event will be from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Moose Lodge, 1340 Michigan Rd.
Share Our Strength was established in 1984 by siblings Bill and Debbie Shore in response to famine in Ethiopia. Programs to feed children through No Kid Hungry include school breakfast and summer meal efforts. In 2016, a Jefferson County summer meal program for children was funded by a grant from Share Our Strength awarded to River Valley Resources. This past summer the meal program was funded by other area organizations.
In addition to programs partnering with national, state and community organizations to feed children, the Cooking Matters program teaches participants to make the most of their budget while making healthy food choices.
“It’s near and dear to me,” Thompson, a former volunteer with the Angel Tree Network, said of children’s causes.
When her younger sister was born with cerebral palsy, Thompson said, she became “Joy’s little caregiver” along with their mother. From then on, that desire to help hasn’t stopped.
“Everybody can sit around and go ‘oh, kids are starving in America that’s so sad,’” she said.
“I see these TV shows where, ‘oh, this chandelier only cost us a quarter of a million dollars.’ My mind goes to – oh my God, think of how many people you could have helped during Katrina. Think about how many kids that chandelier would’ve fed.
“To me, people need to humble themselves.”
Thompson’s had her fair share of humbling.
The Madison resident has a rare form of psoriatic arthritis, mutilans, that causes bone tissue to erode. Thompson said on pain scale of one to 10, there’s not a day she can remember that wasn’t at least a five. She’s had three spinal surgeries, numerous broken bones and other surgeries.
Thompson said she’s just living the life that she was dealt.
“You can sit home and be in pain, or you can get out and live and be in pain. That’s my philosophy.”
To make things easier on her joints – where most bone loss occurs – Thompson also has a gastric sleeve surgery and one more spinal procedure planned, but not until the bake sale is done.
“This is kind of like my last big hurrah until I can get me fixed.”
Thompson first heard about No Kid Hungry bake sales on the Food Network in 2015. She thought the idea sounded like a simple way to raise money for a great cause. In February of that year, a round of medical setbacks following a spinal surgery delayed her plans. In March that year, Thompson’s only son died.
The rest of that year and 2016, she said, was a blur before she was able to find her way through the fog and back to her mission.
“First it just gave me purpose to get up every morning because I needed that for a while,” Thompson said of organizing for the bake sale. “And then it became, OK, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it – not 100 percent but 150.”
Rather than hold a simple bake sale, Thompson said, she decided to turn the sale into a real event with entertainment for children and their families. Thompson has wrangled local musician Annie Boldery to perform, Southwestern art students to paint faces, a clown to make balloon animals and arranged for a cupcake decorating station.
A few raffles, including one of a handmade lap quilt, also will be held in support of the fundraiser.
Entry to the event will be free, but to purchase any cake, cookies, pies or cupcakes, attendees will have to purchase $1 tickets to buy the baked items from volunteer bakers.
Anyone willing to donate their own baked goods is still invited to bring them on the day of the event.
For her homemade contribution this weekend, Thompson plans to bake eight dozen cupcakes, a chocolate cake and a cheesecake. For a woman who’s benefited from the kindness of others on a number of occasions, it’s simply giving to receive.
“I get up everyday and some people come up to me and they’re like, ‘how can you be in such a good mood? How can you say you’re blessed?’”
As a woman living on disability, with disease and on food stamps, she still considers herself fortunate.
“I get up every morning and I can still walk. I’m not in a wheelchair yet. I’ve got a roof over my head, I’ve got food on my table, clothes on my back. I’ve got God and I’ve got family, so I consider myself very blessed.”
Thompson hasn’t always been so laser-focused, but after a close look at her own mortality 14 years ago, she made a deal with God as she laid in the intensive care unit at Jewish Hospital.
“I laid there in that bed and I said, ‘God, let me live. I’ll never drink another drink, I’ll never smoke another cigarette. I don’t have money, but I will pay it forward – with every fiber of my body, I’ll pay it forward,’” she said.
“He kept that promise to me, so I’m keeping mine.”
To learn more about No Kid Hungry bake sales visit www.gabs.nokidhungry.org. To make an online donation to Thompson’s event, click “support a local bake sale” under the give tab on the homepage and search for Sheila Thompson.