John Hampson is a big man—about 6 feet, 3 inches tall. “But he has an even bigger heart,” said Rosemary Barkes. “He’s a real force in our community.”
Barkes is a volunteer at the Purple Door Free Store at Grove City United Methodist Church, where Hampson serves as director. The name refers to the church’s distinctively colored doors.
In operation since December 2018, the store provides clothing at no cost to families who live in the South-Western City School District and need a helping hand.
“There are a lot of people out there who are down on their luck or need assistance with clothing,” Hampson said. “But we strive to be more than just a place that gives out clothing. We’ve become friends with a lot of the people we serve. We know them, and they know us.”
Hampson, 67 and a Grove City native, worked 42 years in the South-Western district as a teacher and guidance counselor at Grove City High School, then for six years as a substitute teacher before retiring in 2017. In each of his school roles, Hampson said, he believed he had more than just his students’ academic well-being at stake.
“When I see a need, especially with kids, I will try my best to help fulfill that,” he said. “It’s a way to put the values of my faith into action.
“I loved working as a teacher and counselor. In a lot of ways, I didn’t really want to retire,” Hampson said. “I like kids, I really do. I probably like kids more than I enjoy being with adults. You learn so much from students.”
His devotion to serving young people extended beyond the school building. Hampson and his wife, Nancy, have two sons, David and Daniel. In the 1980s, Hampson and his wife became foster parents over a period of about five years to three brothers—Sinh, Khoa and Hanh Nguyen, all Vietnamese refugees—and later adopted them. They also have three “assimilated” children, former students of Hampson.
“They never lived with us, but we consider all three of them as our children,” Hampson said. “They take part in our holiday celebrations and we observe their birthdays. They’re part of our family.”
“Every one of our children have been a blessing for our family,” he said.
For all his good work, Hampson deflects praise and said he believes he and the other Purple Door Free Store volunteers are receiving more than the people they help.
That kind of statement is typical of Hampson, Barkes said. “He’s a humble man. He isn’t doing any of his community work for personal attention,” she said.
Hampson is driven to make his community and people’s lives better, Barkes said. Every holiday season, she said, Hampson plays Santa Claus at the church and other community events.
“He’s the perfect Santa. He’s kind of like a Santa all year round,” said Barkes, who volunteers as a personal shopper at the free store, helping pick out clothing items for families.
The store was forced to close in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hampson himself tested positive in July for COVID-19.
Clothing donations were accepted again beginning in July, and the store reopened in early August with new safety guidelines.
In 2019, the store provided clothing to more than 2,200 people, Hampson said. “You don’t know how you may be changing someone’s life by the simple act of providing them clothing,” he said.
Last spring, Hampson began sending some of his former students a newsletter that each month includes quotes and brief anecdotes relating to a specific theme. At last count, he was sending the newsletters to 241 people, most living in Grove City or other central Ohio communities, but also to others as far away as California, New York and Arizona.
“You never stop wanting to make a difference in people’s lives,” Hampson said. “Plus, it’s a good way to help me stay in touch with people who mean a lot to me.”