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Family’s inner-city supermarket launches neighborhood ministry

Neighborhood grocery store with declining sales, inner-city strip mall location, older neighborhood, crime abounds, building in need of repair.
Any buyers?
Most people would pass on this opportunity, except for a man who had been asking God to lead him to an area to open a supermarket where he could get to know and help the people in the neighborhood.
“I believe God said, ‘I want you there,’ and he provided everything for us and then said, ‘What are you going to do now?'” said Jim Lamb, the new owner of Community Supermarket, a grocery store located near the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Lamb and his wife, Beverly, have a business philosophy different from most businessmen. They want to use their business to help others and revitalize the community around them. As the store turns a profit, the Lambs are returning the profits to their employees, to their church, to neighborhood schools, back into the business and to their family. Of those percentages, the family receives the smallest amount.
“If we can help our employees, the schools, the churches, our community, then we can turn the entire neighborhood around,” Lamb said. “I believe that is what God wants us to do.”
Pausing as his eyes became tearful, Lamb compassionately voiced concern for the neighborhood, schools and kids who don’t have the advantages they should. One of his plans is to get other merchants in the mall together and periodically provide meals for children on their way to school.
It’s not just the future, though, that Lamb talks about. The Community Supermarket already has adopted Parkview Elementary School, located a few blocks behind the Gentilly Boulevard store as one of its target schools.
Lamb is a businessman who also happens to be a Christian. He quickly and emphatically said he is not one to “toot his own horn.”
“I don’t want people shopping here because of me personally,” he said. “When people know we are here, know we are real, know this store is a safe place to shop, see a clean store with a variety of merchandise at competitive prices, then we will get the customers back.” he said.
His commitment to the Lord and biblical principles is apparent, but faithfully walking with God has not always been so strong, Lamb admitted.
The turning point came several years ago when Lamb and his wife turned everything over to Lord, especially their wallets. Although both were Christians and involved in a local church, it was not until they began tithing did full obedience take place in their lives. At that moment, giving became fun, and real joy in Christ filled their lives, he recounted.
“From that point on we’ve been giving and giving and want to continue giving,” Lamb said. “Becoming obedient was the trigger point, but once we did it, everything turned around.”
Turning around a suffering grocery store and making initial strides to improve the neighborhood began last November when Lamb and his family opened the business. But changing a neighborhood takes more than one person.
“The seminary has been actively involved to see measured and substantial changes in the neighborhood around us,” said Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Seminary and a member of the Gentilly Partnership Foundation, an organization engaging residential and commercial resources to communicate and promote the quality and value of the area.
“The Lambs are an example of that mission,” Kelley said. “Mr. and Mrs. Lamb have made a quality investment in this community and we should do everything to encourage them personally, pray for their success and give them our business.”
Speaking in a recent chapel service, Kelley encouraged seminarians to be good neighbors in the Gentilly community and to explore the ongoing role the seminary family can have as agents of change.
As Kelley encourages seminarians, Lamb is encouraging other businesspeople to take a second look at their community and seize the business opportunities that exist in their own backyard.
“We have a wonderful mix of people around us. Hard-working people who are here to stay,” Lamb said. “It’s going to take local people to do the job; we can’t wait on the big guys.”
Local people like Lamb who on most days can be seen up and down the aisles stocking shelves, gathering shopping carts from the parking lot or simply greeting customers as they enter his store. Yes, he has a strong management team and a solid staff in place, but Lamb wants to be involved and to ask his customers firsthand what they think about his store.
So far everything is falling into place. The “For Sale” sign is long gone. The grand opening has occurred and what’s left is a clean, safe neighborhood supermarket and a nice man, thin hair, beard, dressed in khaki pants, blue shirt, red vest and red tie with a big smile on his face and a heartfelt thank you coming from his lips for shopping in his store.
When not at home or in his supermarket, Lamb can be found at First Baptist Church of Kenner, La., teaching a fifth- and sixth- grade boys Sunday school class, while Beverly teaches in the first-grade department. They have two children, Jason and Jessica.

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  • Steve Achord