WAGENER — Tony Thompson was standing near the Pavilion on Railroad Avenue while talking to a reporter on Sunday afternoon when Olivia Anderson walked up and handed him a new Lalaloopsy doll. Anderson, 10, told Thompson that the toy was a gift for his youngest child, Emmalee.
“That's sweet,” said Thompson, who gave Anderson a big hug.
Anderson's mother, Amanda, had spotted Thompson while driving by, so she stopped her car and let her daughter get out to give the doll to Thompson.
Such acts of kindness have been common, according to Thompson, since a Christmas Eve fire destroyed the house on Poplar Street in Salley where the divorced father lived with his three children.
“What people have done for us has been a true blessing,” Thompson said.
Fortunately, nobody was at the house when the blaze started. Thompson's children were with their mother, and Thompson was putting together a Barbie Jammin' Jeep for Emmalee at his mother's house in Perry.
“I had been there about an hour and a half or so, when I got phone call from a neighbor in Salley,” Thompson said. “It was a little bit after 11 o'clock at night, and he wanted to know if anybody was in the house. I said, 'No. Why?' He said, 'The house is on fire.' I went down to Salley, and by the time I got there, the house was pretty much gone.”
Thompson and his children are staying with his mother, Mary Thompson, while they try to figure out what to do.
“There's a lot going on, and I'm trying to help my kids cope with losing nearly everything that they had,” Thompson said.
His oldest child, 12-year-old Angel, misses her collection of CDs and stereo system. His son, Chris, 9, misses his Xbox 360 and games. Emmalee misses her dolls.
“Emmalee liked to set out her baby dolls on the couch, and all of them were named,” Thompson said. “It's been a bit depressing and stressful for her.”
The family got immediate assistance from their relatives and people in the community. They provided clothes, personal hygiene products and presents for the holiday.
“My kids had a wonderful Christmas in spite of what happened,” Thompson said.
The family also has received a new dishwasher, a blender, towels, sheets and numerous other items.
“We've gotten piles of stuff that we are still sorting through,” Thompson said. “There has been a lot of outreach from this area, Aiken, Augusta and North Carolina.”
The house that Thompson and his family lost was more than 100 years old.
“We had insurance, but it was just enough to pay the mortgage if something like this happened,” Thompson said. “There is no way possible that we can rebuild it. We may try to do something with a mobile home or something like that in order to get our lives back to a somewhat normal state.”
Thompson, who will celebrate his 41st birthday on Jan. 6, is an equipment operator for the South Carolina Department of Transportation. He planned to go to a Wells Fargo Bank in Aiken today to set up an account that people can use to make financial donations to his family.
“We've heard from people in Arizona, New York and New Jersey that want to send us funds to help,” Thompson said.
For more information about making donations to the Thompsons, call 803-564-3427 or 803-564-3461. Donations can be dropped off at the Department of Transportation Office at 1931 University Parkway in Aiken.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.