CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Columnist Leonard Pitts wrote a story for the front page of last Sunday's Charlotte Observer indicting both parties for failing to speak up for the poor. He inspired this column.
I could be writing the expected narrative from a conservative at the Democratic National Convention but have chosen instead to acknowledge that Pitts, though a lefty, is right. If the Democrats and Republicans aren't talking about the greater goal of helping the poor become un-poor (rather than just sending them a check to sustain them in their poverty), is anyone doing something to help them? At least one person is - and within sight of the Democratic National Convention.
Jim Noble is a native North Carolinian and restaurateur. In the business for 30 years, he says his Christian faith led him and his wife to help Charlotte's growing homeless population - which has increased significantly. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in August 2011, homelessness among families increased 21 percent in Charlotte from the year before.
Noble owns a for-profit restaurant in downtown Charlotte, but the one that is making a difference is a non-profit one called The King's Kitchen. Standing between a Hooters and a Morton's steak house, Noble donates profits from The King's Kitchen to a ministry he and his wife began to help get people off the streets and back on their feet.
The place has been operational only since 2010 and Noble emphasizes "it's not a soup kitchen" but more like a restoration center with food. He feeds bodies so he can also feed souls. Noble believes that if a homeless person, drug addict, or alcoholic is not changed from within and given hope, he or she is unlikely to see their circumstances improve.
"We are dealers in hope; we give people hope," he says.
The King's Kitchen may be unique among restaurants. It earned non-profit status from the IRS because of its focus on job development and training.
"We give them a job and they get paid and then we have Bible discipleship and church in the restaurant on Sundays," Noble explains. "They have to attend and we give them leadership classes and teach social skills and restaurant skills. They go through a one-year program and then they can either get out and get a job, or stay on with us."
Noble says to overcome homelessness and poverty, those he serves must develop a new outlook on themselves and on life: "If you can change the way a person sees himself, you can change his whole life. If they can just reconnect with the dreams they had when they were young, build their faith, and trust God to get out of the ditch, they can transform their lives."
Jesse Spann is a cook at The King's Kitchen. Spann says he's been homeless, unemployed, and survived at one time by "digging in dumpsters." Spann is now married with children and his wife is a minister. He says he loves going back into the streets and ministering to the homeless. He can identify.
Noble says there are enough churches in Charlotte that if each one helped just one poor or homeless person, the problem would be effectively solved.
There are many good works performed by church and independent groups around the country, but The King's Kitchen shows the power of one couple and the vision they had for caring for what Scripture calls "the least of these."
A footnote: Jim Noble says he is a political conservative, but "socially liberal" in the sense he believes in spreading his own wealth around to help the needy.
The difference between his "liberalism" and that of the Democratic National Convention meeting a few blocks away is that he is liberal with the money he makes and he holds accountable those on the receiving end. There is another difference: His program has a far better success rate than the government's, which does not and cannot change human hearts with the transforming message Noble not only preaches and teaches, but lives.
And the Southern-style cooking is excellent.