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This restaurant owner spends his free time fixing old cars and donating them to people in need

Less than a yr after his loss of life, Middleton, 38, now a restaurant owner, is honoring his father’s legacy by fixing junk cars and donating them to people all through rural South Carolina, the place public transportation is sparse.

“You don’t have a car, you don’t have a career. How will people who have no reliable buses, no Ubers, travel to the city, where they would be able to find bigger jobs at the port authorities or manufacturing centers?” Middleton advised CNN. “They can’t walk 40, 50, 60 miles to great jobs — they have to settle for small-end jobs that pay well below what they need to survive.”

So far, he is collected 100 cars and shocked 33 group members with a repaired experience — with out asking for a single factor in return.

“Giving someone a car can change all that, and it does change all that,” he mentioned. “I want to help everybody looking to better themselves when transportation is what’s holding them back.”

Middleton mentioned the concept to present autos to people in need got here to him in November 2019, when he organized a meals drive to distribute 250 packing containers of his barbeque.

Eliot Middleton is a mechanic-turned-restaurateur in rural South Carolina.

When he ran out of packing containers, he walked exterior to see what number of people had been nonetheless ready for meals and noticed a line two blocks lengthy.

“That’s when I noticed most of those people just started walking back to the other side of town,” he mentioned. “I caught up with some of them and found out they had walked three or four miles to get there to receive food, but couldn’t make it in time because they had no cars and they had to walk. I was very distraught to see that.”

“That was the turning point in my life when I made the decision to actively give my time and skills to give back to my community.”

‘He’s a particular sort of godsend’

Melanie Lee remembers spending 4 months driving her 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe hours again and forth to go to her son, who was mendacity in a hospital mattress preventing for his life.

One week after burying him in November 2020, Lee’s automobile, worn out from all of the street miles, broke down, leaving her unable to go to the kids her son left behind.

“When it broke down, I broke down,” Lee, 59, advised CNN. “Now I don’t have my baby, now I don’t have transportation. How am I supposed to stay active in my grandchildren’s lives? How do I do anything?”

Without dependable transportation, Lee mentioned she could not even go to the grocery retailer or church.

Middleton heard Lee’s story from her nephew Frank McClary, the mayor of Andrews, and determined to supply her considered one of his cars.

Just a few weeks later, on Christmas morning, Lee’s household gently ushered her to the door, the place she noticed Middleton pull into her driveway with a white 1993 Oldsmobile.

Middleton, right, with Melanie Lee, middle, and her nephew Frank McClary, the mayor of Andrews, South Carolina, after Middleton surprised Lee with a car.

“I was so overwhelmed,” Lee mentioned. “Like, who does that? Who comes on Christmas morning, gives you a car, gives you the keys, gives you the title, no strings attached? I felt like I won, and I had never won anything in my life before.”

After a number of tears, hugs, and thank-you’s, Lee felt a little bit bit extra prepared to begin the following chapter in her life.

“I got my freedom back,” she mentioned. “Eliot is a godsend. He’s a special kind of godsend. What Eliot is doing is purposeful. That car to me is a real true blessing.”

Healing himself and others via charity

Middleton wakes up early 5 days per week to prep his restaurant in Awendaw for enterprise. He cooks up ham, turkey, candied yams, inexperienced beans and recent collards. But his hottest dish is grilled ribs, which people come from throughout to strive.

On the 2 days he has off, Middleton spends time with his two daughters or bent over a automobile, fixing it simply the best way his father taught him.

For 17 years, Middleton and his dad, Kevin Wayne Middleton Sr., labored alongside one another, even beginning their very own mechanic store in 2004. They ran it for 10 years, till Middleton opened a meals truck — the start of Middleton’s Village BBQ.

But in mid-February 2020, his father grew to become severely sick, and died simply weeks after.

Middleton's father, Kevin Wayne Middleton Sr., works in his auto repair shop in the 1990s.

“My life started changing very fast,” Middleton mentioned. “My dad died and just weeks later after I buried my father, I signed the contract for the restaurant in March three days before the United States went into a restaurant lockdown because of the pandemic. It was very stressful, like, what have I done? What am I going to do?”

Middleton had no time to mourn. Instead, he poured all his power into the restaurant, pivoting to drive-thru, deliveries and curbside pickup to keep afloat.

It wasn’t till September 2020, when he began repairing cars for strangers, that he started to heal.

“I like working on cars with a lot of problems because that’s my time to relate to my father, speak with him, because that’s what we’ve always done together,” Middleton mentioned. “It makes me feel like he’s right there. It’s helping me as much as it’s helping the people I give the cars to because this is allowing me to cope with the fact that my dad’s not here anymore.”

Committed to his group

Middleton mentioned he believes it is necessary to assist everybody, however he has a comfortable spot for good, hardworking people in the agricultural South, whom he says society usually forgets.

“We need to remember communities that have been forgotten,” he mentioned. “People recognize major cities and forget our rural towns, and the people in them that need some help. They’re people, they’re Americans, and we should be taking care of them.”

For Middleton, serving to strangers is not simply one thing good to do — it is his calling.

“I’m happy Eliot is finally getting the recognition he deserves, and it’s crazy because I know he never expected this to become so big,” Mike Jennings, who has been associates with Middleton for eight years, advised CNN. “It’s beyond his wildest dreams and it’s awesome to be able to see it. We’re all so grateful for him and so proud of him.”

Jennings, 31, additionally a mechanic, was so impressed by Middleton that he started serving to his pal repair cars for strangers.

In November 2020, Jennings’ personal automobile broke down. At the time, funds had been tight due to the coronavirus pandemic. He could not afford to restore the automobile and nonetheless assist his fiancée, who misplaced her job, and 4-year-old daughter.

Still, he at all times confirmed up at Middleton’s facet, cheerful and excited to be part of his challenge.

One day in December, as Jennings was cleansing up a 2000 Subaru Forester that they had simply completed repairing, Middleton turned to him and mentioned, “That’s your Subaru, Mike.”

Mike Jennings poses with his daughter after Middleton surprised him with a 2000 Subaru Forester.

“I was so shocked, I never expected it,” Jennings mentioned. “It was very touching for Eliot to think of me too. It really meant so much to me. I didn’t have to worry about how to get to work, or rely on people anymore. I was really struggling and he helped ease that so much.”

After dropping his job final week, Jennings acquired much more assist from his good pal.

Middleton, who just lately turned his challenge right into a non-profit group known as Middleton’s Village To Village Foundation, employed Jennings to develop into a everlasting member of his group.

“A lot of people turn to their pastors or psychiatrists to open up about their situations, but others turn to their communities,” Middleton mentioned. “That’s what I’m here for, to always be here for my community whether it’s for advice or to talk or fix up cars for them. I’ll always be taking care of my people.”

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