PROFILE: An answered prayer

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

The darkest parts of the coronavirus pandemic have shown some of the brightest parts of humanity. Acts of kindness have run the gamut in form, from adult volunteers cooking and delivering meals to the elderly and immunocompromised, to teenagers delivering cleaning supplies to families unable to go to the store. Such selfless gestures are also ones you would expect from someone like Lucinda Thomas—but not just during a pandemic. For Lucinda, giving is as second nature to her as breathing, and she has a knack for finding new avenues for it.

“It’s not about me,” she says, an unmistakable note of compassion in her soft voice. “A kind word, a smile, a hello will help people.” And she stands by her words as truth, knowing she can back them up with evidence from her life—conversations she has had with strangers and friends, moments she has made an effort to truly change someone’s day through her actions. There’s a good chance Lucinda doesn’t even know the full extent of her generosity; after all, she doesn’t dwell on how it affects her. That’s not her mission.

Lucinda’s compassion starts with her family. She takes care of her brother, Anthony, who became paralyzed about four years ago after an abscess on his spinal cord went undetected. Three days a week, Lucinda makes sure he is ready to be transported to his doctor’s appointments. She remains unofficially on-call in case he needs anything on other days. “I have a very good support system,” she says of her sisters and other family members who pitch in with Anthony’s care. “It was a life change for all of us. There’s nothing you can do; you can’t be mad.”

Friend Gwendolyn Brown says she met Lucinda when Gwendolyn worked for a disability rights group. “She amazed me when she came in looking for more resources for not just her brother, but for many others,” Gwendolyn says. “I was able to realize that she actually knew a bit more than I could possibly provide her to be of help. She is always giving of her time and lending a helping hand when needed. She goes above and beyond the call of duty for her family, community and customers.”

Lucinda’s compassion flows into her professional life, too. She has worked at Walmart in Alabaster for the last 23 years, most recently as a switchboard operator. She answers phone calls and directs callers to the correct person or department—a job rooted in customer service, an arena in which she shines. “I’m a people person,” she says. “I never meet a stranger. I can walk into a room and have a conversation with people.”

Lucinda has worked in other roles at the store over the years, but no matter where she finds herself any given day, she is connecting with her coworkers and customers, either through conversations or simply a warm smile in passing. “I look at it as a courtesy,” she says. “It doesn’t cost anything to say hello.”

Outside of work, Lucinda attends church at Bethesda Apostolic Worship Center in Montevallo, where she says she loves to help in the kitchen when she has time. “I can’t cook—cooking is not my calling—but I love to serve. You learn a lot about people when you’re talking to them back there.”

Lucinda looks at her church pastor and longtime friends like Dilcey Daniels and Vera Mae McCarter as mentors and sources of wisdom when she needs guidance. “You need people who are going to tell you the truth,” she says. Other prominent people in her life include Rick Mercer, Arthurie Luster and Scott Newell, all of whom she credits with pushing her to finish school at Jefferson State and get her degree years ago. And her brother’s good spirits despite his condition are contagious. “He keeps me going,” she says.

In moments of solitude, Lucinda often turns to music to carry her through challenging times. She recalls lying on the floor of her brother’s hospital room during a five-month stay for his spinal cord abscess, exhausted and unsure of what the future would hold for him. “I would work from 2-11 and go to the hospital and sleep there every night. I would just turn on the music and lay on the floor.”

Lucinda stays busy, seemingly defying the laws of sleep and sanity. It’s hard to think she would have any spare time left to dedicate to anything or anyone besides her brother, work and church, but she manages to find snatches of time to conduct what she calls “wellness checks,” or quick visits to people’s houses to make sure they are OK or to drop off food and supplies they need. She calls her drive-by checks and delivery services Queen Pantry —and she does it all free of charge, in case that wasn’t already clear. “My mom would do that,” Lucinda says, recalling memories of watching her mother fill a brown paper bag with food for someone who needed a boost. “You wouldn’t leave the Thomas house without a bag.”

It’s yet another example of Lucinda’s generosity that impresses Gwendolyn. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused uncertainty for the elderly, persons with disabilities and many others in various ways,” she says. “People would call the store in search of supplies. Some would not have transportation to the store to pick them up. On her off days, Lucinda would go to deliver items to people in need, making sure the elderly and persons with disabilities have the basic necessities they need to stay safe during this pandemic.”

And yet, Lucinda claims she’s just using the time and opportunities God has given her to make a difference. “It doesn’t matter what gift you have,” she says. “You don’t have to have a whole celebrity platform; you have to use what you’ve got. If we all do a little bit, it adds up. That’s what I try to get people to see. You just work every day and try to do good.”

People like Gwendolyn see how much Lucinda does. How does she fit it all in? That’s a question for the ages. “I would always tease her and say, ‘Lucinda, when I win the lottery, I am sending you on a vacation. Girl! You do so much and never have time to rest,’” Gwendolyn says. “Lucinda (is) a life changer, a door to being a way-maker and to so many, an answered prayer.”