Campbell's Everyday All-Star Team: Heather Thompson

Posted Dec 28, 2016

CAMPBELL'S EVERYDAY ALL-STAR TEAM: HEATHER THOMPSON

This season, the New York Giants have partnered with Campbell's Chunky Soup to highlight "Everyday All-Stars" - individuals who go above and beyond to make a difference in the community.

The joint initiative is part of a larger Campbell's campaign to pay tribute to the everyday hard work of men and women who help give back to those in need. Campbell's enlisted six NFL players to join the effort - Odell Beckham Jr., Drew Brees, Kyle Long, Todd Gurley, Eric Ebron and Eddie Lacy.

The fourth New York Giants Everyday All-Star is Heather Thompson, the Development Director at Eva's Village. The first three members of the team are: Margarette Purvis of Food Bank For New York City, Debra Vizzi of Community Food Bank of New Jersey and Syd Mandelbaum of Rock and Wrap it Up!

About Eva's Village

As Heather told us,Eva's Village (a nonprofit 501c3) started nearly 35 years ago as a very small soup kitchen. Our founder, Reverend Monsignor Vincent E. Puma, was working in Paterson, New Jersey and saw a lot of poverty and need in the community. So he got together with a small group of religious and concerned citizens, and they started by offering a daily hot meal to the homeless and hungry, without judgement, no questions asked. Once Msgr. Puma started to get to know the people he was helping, he felt compelled to do more. He had a vision of an entire suppotive community to lift people up out of poverty.

"As our organization has grown, that's the path we've continued to follow. We have become the most comprehensive anti-poverty organization in the area. Our Community Kitchen serves nearly 13,00 meals a day to homeless and working poor individuals in Paterson, and to everyone living in our residential programs. We offer emergency sheltering programs, transitional apartments and affordable housing, a free medical clinic and substance abuse treatment programs, including our Hope Residence for mothers struggling with addiction that allows them to keep their children with them so they can heal together as a family. Our goal is to go beyond providing just basic needs, and to help people become stable and self-sufficient, and build stronger futures for themselves and their families. Many of our staff members and volunteers are people who are themselves in recovery, so it's really a peer-to-peer approach. It's people turning around and lending a helping hand to those who are struggling, because they understand what it's like to be at that lowest point."

Are there any special programs people should know about this time of year?

This is the time of year we're able to go above and beyond. We hosted holiday celebrations throughout December for everyone living here, and gave away 500 gift bags to people who came to have meals with us on Christmas with warm blankets, hats, scarves, gloves, and toiletries. We want to make sure people in need in our community know someone is there for them. December is a very busy time, but it’s a special time of year and we try to bring the holiday spirit to everyone and let them know they are not alone.

We have 300 adults and over 50 children living with us at any given time, in our shelters, substance abuse treatment programs and transitional housing. The average stay of someone in an emergency shelter is 2-3 months and 5-6 months in our residential treatment programs. The Community Kitchen remains the heart of Eva's Village – a lot of people find their way to us through the kitchen, and then learn about our other programs.

The people who come to us for help all have different needs. They may come for one service or program, and then as we get to know them, we can connect them to other services we offer. They may come for a meal in the kitchen, and they realize “Oh, I haven't had a checkup in three years, I can get free medical care here at the clinic.” And from there they may be referred to our mental health program or substance abuse program. Everything is connected.

If you were GM of a Campbell's Chunky Everyday-All Star team, what qualities would you look for?

I work with both volunteers and staff. Passion and compassion are the top two qualities I look for in anyone I work with, and I am constantly inspired by my colleagues and the volunteers here. A person has to be driven and passionate in order to be here. It's not always easy work, but it's such important and vital work. They have to have compassion and truly understand that the people who come to us for help are really no different than you or I. What they've gone through could happen to anyone. It can be as simple as treating a person with dignity, giving them a smile and asking how their day is going.

As the Director of Development, my job involves building relationships, raising awareness of our mission, and raising the funds necessary to keep programs running. My team and I are responsible for donations from individuals, churches and community organizations, corporations and foundations. I also help oversee the volunteer program, which brings in thousands of individuals and groups over the course of a year.

Describe a mentor and someone who has really influenced you.

I've been working in the nonprofit sector for most of my career (including 7 1/2 years at Meals on Wheels and three years at Park Avenue Armory), but my background is in musical theatre. I'm from Buffalo, NY originally and I would have to say my choir director in high school was a big influence in my life. Our choir was very highly regarded, but we didn't participate in competitions. Our director was very service driven, wanting us to focus our time, talent and energy reaching out to people in need or people who might be lonely. Rather than compete, he arranged for us to perform at senior citizen homes or homeless shelters, helping to lift people up through song. I rarely think about those experiences as community service, because I enjoyed it so much, but it definitely helped me connect with people from all walks of life.

What is it about community service that has made it your life's work?

I've had the privilege to meet so many people over the course of my life whose lives were made better by the ability to give and accept help. That's a lesson I learned from a very young age. I met all kinds of people through my activities in theatre and music, and I saw how easy it could be to make someone else’s life – and your own life – better just by listening, by caring, by being there for someone. From the time I was young, I never understood why people who had less were treated like they were less. I always thought that was terribly unfair. It's always been a part of who I am to try to make a difference for people who don't have what I have.

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