As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend our day-to-day lives, linebacker Shaq Thompson has stepped up to provide some comfort for those on the front lines of the crisis.
Thompson has partnered with Atrium Health, Bojangles, and local restaurants to deliver 2,000 meals for healthcare workers at four different Atrium Health campuses across the Charlotte area.
"I know I'm blessed enough to be in a position to give back, and I felt like this would be the perfect time to help out," Thompson said. "This is the right time to help the first responders and their families to at least take something off their plate. So I just wanted to do something for them, tell them we appreciate them and what they're doing for the world, trying to keep people safe."
So for the next two weeks, hundreds of meals will be delivered to a different campus from Monday through Thursday. Bojangles will provide about 1,200 meals for workers at Atrium's main hospital, and a few other local restaurants will provide around 800 meals for auxiliary campuses around Charlotte.
"There's never been a more important time to team up with our partners and serve our community," said Ken Reynolds, director of corporate and community affairs for Bojangles'. "Like the Panthers, the Carolinas is our home, and we want to be sure our hometown heroes know just how much we appreciate them. Moreover, we hope all frontline workers will take advantage of our free tea offer at participating locations. Healthcare workers, first responders and law enforcement personnel just need to show their credentials to receive any size of our Legendary Iced Tea free of charge."
Thompson plans to provide an ongoing meal service for families who have been classified as homeless, or who are temporarily living in unstable housing like local motels. He's working with a grassroots network of service providers to make sure that 20 families receive dinner several times per week.
Thompson found it important to not only serve those who are providing critical health services to the public but also to purchase from local restaurants whose businesses have been impacted by the pandemic.
"I live here, I love it here," Thompson said. "I care about this community. I care about people. I want them to see that and know that."
Earlier this month, Thompson partnered with 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead to provide meals for healthcare workers in their shared native city of Sacramento, Calif. But Thompson wanted to do the same in the city where he's played since 2015.
"I got drafted here and they've opened their arms to me and my family," Thompson said. "And they've loved me ever since."
But more than that, Thompson noted that the death of his mother, Patty, in October had a lasting effect on him. He described his mother's spirit as generous, and she instilled that value within him.
"My mom was always big into giving back and taking care of people and stuff like that. I think that's one trait that I took from her before she passed," Thompson said. "That's where that comes from because she was loving and giving."
Thompson is currently in Charlotte, working to stay in shape while adhering to social distancing guidelines. He said he's been riding his Peloton for cardio while also mixing in a lot of push ups in addition to his resistance training. And he's looking forward to the day when he and his teammates will be able to gather at Bank of America Stadium with head coach Matt Rhule.
"I really like him," Thompson said. "I think he's going to do great for us. He's going to help us win some games, get this team back where we're supposed to be."
With so much roster turnover and a new coaching staff, Thompson anticipates he'll have an increased leadership role. And having learned what that should look like under former linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, Thompson is eager to embrace the challenge.
"From losing Thomas Davis then turning around and losing Luke Kuechly — and I'm like the last of that trio, of that group of three — I feel like there's a lot on my shoulders just trying to replace them because they were two great leaders on this team," Thompson said. "The standard in the 'backers room — like everybody counts on that room. And that's who people look to because that's what happened when we had TD and Luke — everybody looked towards them because they were the leaders."
"And for myself, I want to step up as a leader — let my voice be heard and my face be shown," Thompson added.
In many ways, that starts with what he's doing in the community for local healthcare workers. No, there isn't an in-person offseason program to begin right now with his teammates. But Thompson feels it's important to do what he can to uplift those who are helping save lives during this crisis.
"I'm doing it from my heart," Thompson said. "If you know me, you know I don't like a lot of lights on me a lot of fame and stuff like that. This is one of the first times I'm kind of expressing something out there. I just like to do stuff just straight out of the kindness of my heart."