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Couple gives homeless veteran a place to stay, first Christmas in 10 years

SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - Tony Cheatam stood tall next to his Christmas tree Tuesday afternoon.

"This is the first Christmas tree I've had in 14 or 15 years," said the 58-year-old navy veteran.

He admits, having a tree, and a warm place to stay, was something he never imagined this holiday season.

He's been homeless for about 10 years.

Two weeks ago, that all changed thanks for the giving hearts of Brent and Claire Thompson.

"This is my home," said Cheatam, with a smile. "This is the Taj Mahal compared to what I had."

Cheatam lost his job 10 years ago and fell on hard time. He says he's still working to get back on his feet.

That's where Brent and Claire come in.

The young Summerville couple met Cheatam through a friend at the end of November and decided to try to bring Christmas to a man who otherwise would go without one again. Within a week, Brent decided to let Cheatam move into the condo he typically leases to tenants.

"He's said he just needs a hand up, not a hand out," said Brent.

In exchange for a place to stay, Cheatam is doing repair work on the condo.

The Thompsons say they're generous people, but admit this is not something they typically do.

"You could hear it in his voice. Sometimes you just have a feeling about people," said Brent.

On Christmas Eve, the Thompsons plan to have Cheatam over for dinner. Then, they'll take him into their living room where gifts surround the tree. All of the gifts are for Cheatam and come from donations friends, family members and others have made to help Cheatam.

It's a surprise the Thompsons say he won't see coming. 

"We'll just keep giving him presents," said Brent. "Then, he'll get the idea. Like, wait a second, what's going on?"

Together, the gifts are worth thousands of dollars. The biggest one is a moped that will take the place of Cheatam's bicycle. For years, the bike has been his only form of transportation.

The Thompsons say everything they've done for Cheatam, the condo, the gifts, the generosity, aim to send one message.

"Just to always keep going, keep trying," said Claire Thompson.

It's a message that's well received.

"I love you and I thank God for you," said Cheatam.

To keep the gifts a surprise, the Thompsons told Tony this story won't air until Christmas Day and say they'll make sure he is away from the TV when it actually does air.

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