GRITS' soul food is food for the soul

7/8/2012

By Kara Witherow, Editor

Just a few weeks ago, Adam Sturdivant was unemployed. Recently released from prison after being incarcerated for three years, Sturdivant found it nearly impossible to find a job. Divorced and living with his parents, the father of two needed help and hope.

Today he’s getting paid to do what he loves – converse with customers and cook.

GRITS, a new restaurant in Brunswick, aims to employ those like 29-year-old Sturdivant, former convicts who can’t find jobs. A ministry of FaithWorks, GRITS stands for Grace, Redemption, Inspiration, Thankfulness and Sacredness.

“When people get out of jail they immediately need two things that they can’t find – housing and employment,” said Dr. Wright Culpepper, executive director of FaithWorks and an extension minister in the Waycross District of the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church. “It’s hard to find them jobs, so we decided to hire them ourselves.”

The Waycross District Committee on Missions provided a significant amount of funding to open the restaurant, as did the United Thank Offering of the Episcopal Church. Local Brunswick churches, including College Place United Methodist Church, donated money and volunteers.

Like Sturdivant, all but a few of the GRITS staff are former convicts and are participating in FaithWorks’ Open Doors employment, education, case management, and mentoring program. Some are recovering alcoholics or drug addicts and need help getting their lives back on track. All expressed their appreciation for the opportunity.

“I love working with my hands and cooking,” Sturdivant said. “To be able to work hard and support my kids, there’s a sense of satisfaction that comes with that.”

At the beginning of May, Dr. Culpepper hired 12 unemployed people to transform 3300 Norwich Street from a scarred, abandoned restaurant into a breakfast and lunch diner serving down-home, Southern-style food.

Within a month two of the 12 had already gone on to better, higher-paying jobs.

That’s the plan, Dr. Culpepper says.

“We don’t want people getting too comfortable with us.”

The hope is that GRITS will be a starting point, not a landing spot. The jobs all pay minimum wage for 20- to 30-hour workweeks.

“We want them to be out there trying to find a more permanent, better paying job,” Dr. Culpepper said. “Once someone gets hired away we’ll bring someone else in and work with them. This is meant to be a place where someone can show up on time, have a good attitude, dress appropriately, and learn how to work as a part of a team. Our hope is that businesses will contact us and ask us to send them someone. We’re a conduit – not an ending or landing spot.”

Sturdivant hopes to one day own his own restaurant. He’s taken online classes in business management and hopes that his experience at GRITS and his past work experience – he used to work at his family’s restaurant, too – gives him the necessary skills and management experience.

“(Working at GRITS) keeps me positive,” he said. “It keeps me busy. I go to church, I go to meetings, I go to Bible study. It keeps me on the straight and narrow. It holds me accountable. We all have scars, we all have pasts, but I don’t live there anymore. Being positive is much better than being negative. We need to be positive and around good people. It makes me a better individual for my children too.”

At GRITS, Sturdivant helps cook up the restaurant’s signature fried chicken, which is served daily, and Southern-style sides, plus sandwiches and breakfast items. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. through lunch.

 The restaurant is an extension of FaithWorks and its ministry to the community.

Begun in 1995 as a ministry of The United Methodist Church, FaithWorks was born out of Rev. Culpepper’s and the South Georgia Conference’s desire to “do ministry beyond the walls of the church.”

As the senior pastor of Wesley at Frederica United Methodist Church on St. Simons Island for seven years, Rev. Culpepper developed deep relationships with members of the church and people in the community. It was through those relationships that he realized that there were a lot of needs the Church wasn’t meeting.

Since its inception, FaithWorks has worked to meet those needs. In 2010, through its various ministries, FaithWorks offered pastoral care, case management, food, financial assistance, home maintenance, transportation, and a host of other services to almost 20,000 people in Glynn County and Southeast Georgia.

“I’ve enjoyed the last 17 years in this kind of ministry that’s allowed me to minister to people who live on Sea Island and in the bushes of Brunswick and everywhere in between,” Rev. Culpepper said. “They’re all God’s children, rich or poor.”

GRITS is a place of redemption, Rev. Culpepper said, and its success will depend on how mission minded people are.

“It’s not just about needing a meal … but because they need to be a part of the redemptive work being done in this community.”