Saturday, April 19, 2014

Second Chances and Redemption: Ellen DeGeneres See Past the Label and Into the Heart of an RSO Who Feeds the Homeless as He was Once Homeless and Hungry.


Ellen DeGeneres was yelling for him — Derrick Walton, c'mon down. He ran down the Los Angeles studio steps, sat in the big chair on her national talk show and was cheered as a former homeless man who closes his Chef D's Rock Power Pizza every Monday to feed the homeless and needy. 

And, for the second time in a week on her show, being handed a giant $10,000 check. 

What DeGeneres didn't ask him about April 11 was his place on the Iowa Sex Offender Registry. They didn't talk about his years as a stripper or selling drugs. 

That's what Walton wanted to talk about earlier this week, back in his restaurant. 

"The past is not who you are. That's big in Iowa. Put you in a category, and that's who you are," said Walton, 47. "But my message is where you're at, you don't have to stay." 

It's Easter season, and he believes in resurrection, a rebirth of spirit and hope, but he doesn't go to church regularly. 

"This is my church," he says, sitting in his 1,800-square-foot restaurant, smaller than many homes. "I'm here open to close every day and on Monday feeding the homeless. I call them my special people. 

"It's about relationships, not religion. It's a relationship with Christ, who died on the cross and rose again. Jesus gave his life so we could give to others." 

Biblical and inspirational messages fill the restaurant walls. But he's not about to preach how to believe or in what way. 

This is what he does. 

He wanders through the restaurant Monday, stopping at each table, crammed into two tiny rooms on one side of the restaurant with a handful of booths on the other. On people's plates are ham and scalloped potatoes, corn and rolls. They are eating and smiling through various ailments and disappointments. 

There's jobless Jennifer Larson-Fox with her 9-year-old son who says, "It helps a lot because we don't have a lot to eat." 

There's April Schatz with epilepsy that she battles every day, so severe she can't remember 75% of what happened the day before. So she keeps a folded piece of paper in her pocket to write everything down. 

There's Regina Romeo eating with her 13-year-old son. She faces surgery on her foot and has no job because she can't work with the pain. 

"One step at a time," Walton told Romeo. "I'm just glad you're here." 

Volunteers, one who has traveled more than two hours from Waverly, Iowa, huddle around him.