WARREN - Thomas Smith said he felt a need to give back to the community and to a higher calling.
So last year when Smith and his wife, Sandra, decided to open businesses in Baton Rouge, La., and in Warren, they decided that 10 percent of their total income would be donated to Life Outreach International's Mission - Water for Life.
The 14-year-old program is designed to provide money to dig water wells in villages and communities around the world. The majority of the wells are located in Africa, India and Central America. Each well costs about $4,800 to dig.
Thomas Smith makes cajun-style foods in his restaurant, Smitty’s Take Out, on Mahoning Avenue. Smith is donating 10 percent of his profits to help dig water wells. Photo by Raymond L. Smith
Life Outreach International is a program founded by Christian evangelists James and Betty Robinson and is based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Smith said they began looking at doing something about a year ago.
"I was feeling empty," he said. "I needed to do something to make a difference because I've had a lot of selfishness in my life. I wanted to come back and do something outside of myself. I wanted to put my money on the alter.''
Sandra Smith, who is operating Sweety's Snow Cones in Denham Springs, La., said she learned about Life Outreach's well project when she saw an infomercial about three years ago.
"I saw this woman with three young children hugging her legs and a baby in her arms," Sandra said. "The woman looked like she was in her 80s, but actually was in her early 30s. I cried. I knew I had to do something."
Sandra initially sent what she could, $20 to $30 at a time.
When the couple was opening Sweety's, she asked if they could donate a portion of the profits to the well project. After they opened, they also agreed to give all of their tips to the well project.
"When our customers found out what we were doing, they began giving larger tips," she said. "There was one time that a customer paid for his order and then gave us all the money in his wallet - $60 - as a tip."
"We have four businesses and since we've started do this a year ago, we've raised enough money for two wells," Smith said. "We're working on our third well now."
The Smiths have been catering for more than 25 years. They have been operating Louisiana Cajun Lady since 1989 in Mountain View, Calif. It provides a lot of Louisiana-style Cajun foods.
"We work a lot of festivals," he said.
In January 2012, the couple opened Sweety's Snow Cones in Louisiana and in December they opened Smitty's Take-Out, 922 Mahoning Ave., which provides New Orleans Mardi Gras style lunches.
Smith, who was born and raised in Warren, has been coming back to the city for about three years, since his grandmother, Bernadene Bright, moved back to the city. He also has a sister, Tammy Galford, who lives in the area.
"We have not decided whether we want to permanently move here," he said. "However, we've learned that the people of this community can be very generous. We would not have been able to open Smitty's without their donations and support."
While he put in a lot of the "sweat" equity in rehabilitating the small restaurant space, Smith said a lot of people donated money, equipment and time in the restoration of the building."
"The restaurant opened on Dec. 1," he said. "We could not have done it without a lot of generous support of the residents of this city."
Warren resident Mary Ringold, who with her husband, Luther, recently opened the Youth Staying Connected Community Center in Champion in July 2012, said several of her children have been working with Smith at the restaurant.
"My son, Phillip, met Smitty and they hit it off," she said. "Phillip and several of my other children have been working with him in getting the restaurant started."
Youth Staying Connected, 169 Folsom St., is a Christian-based community center that provides young people a place to go to get help with their school work, gain computer skills, work out and play games. Youth Staying Connected is associated with Shalom Church.
Shalom Church was started two years ago by Ringold's son, Paul. It shares the building with Morgandale Nazarene Church, 1985 Overland Ave.