If Eliot Middleton had a hero, it would be his dad. As a boy, he would follow him around everywhere, watching the talented mechanic repair car after car.
Less than a year after his father’s death, the 38-year-old former mechanic and restaurant owner is honoring his dad’s legacy by fixing junk cars and donating them to people in need throughout rural South Carolina.
There’s a lack of public transportation in the area, and Eliot figured he could use his previous experience to help his community.
Eliot posted on Facebook and asked for broken-down cars from the local community. In exchange, he would give donors slabs of his famous barbecued ribs from his restaurant, Middleton’s Village BBQ.
At first, he funded the repairs out of pocket, but when the project gained momentum, he decided to start a non-profit called Middleton’s Village to Village Foundation so he could help more people.
So far, Eliot has collected 100 cars and surprised 33 community members with a repaired vehicle. And he does all of this without asking for anything in return. All he really wants is to improve the lives of these people.
“I want to help everybody looking to better themselves when transportation is what’s holding them back,” he said.
Eliot said he first thought of gifting repaired vehicles to people in need in November 2019, when he organized a food drive and gave away 250 boxes of his barbeque. When he ran out of boxes, he walked outside and saw many people lined up, still waiting for food.
“That’s when I noticed most of those people just started walking back to the other side of town,” he recalled.
“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.”
From then on, Eliot decided he would dedicate his time and skills to give back to his community.
One of the recipients of Eliot’s kindness is Melanie Lee. The 59-year-old spent four months driving her 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe two hours back and forth to visit her dying son at the hospital.
Unfortunately, her son succumbed to his illness. A week after burying him in November 2020, her trusty old vehicle broke down from all the road miles—and so did she.
Melanie didn’t have enough money to have its transmission replaced, so she was left without a car for a time. This was a huge problem because she wouldn’t be able to take care of her two granddaughters, who relied on her to pick them up from school every day and drive them to dance practice.
Eliot heard about her story and decided to repair one of his cars and give it to Melanie. On Christmas morning, Eliot pulled into her driveway with a white 1993 Oldsmobile!
“I got my freedom back,” Melanie said. “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.”
Five days a week, Eliot wakes up early to cook up ham, turkey, candied yams, green beans, and fresh collards for his restaurant business.
On his two days off, he spends time bonding with his two daughters or fixing a car, just the way he used to do with his late father.
For 17 years, Eliot and his dad, Kevin Wayne Middleton Sr., worked alongside each other. They even started their own mechanic shop in 2004. It ran for 10 years until Eliot opened a food truck, which eventually led to his Village BBQ.
But in mid-February 2020, his father became severely ill and passed away just weeks after.
Eliot signed the contract for the restaurant in March, just three days before the country went into a restaurant lockdown because of the pandemic.
It was, indeed, a stressful time for him, but Eliot had no time to grieve. Instead, he focused his energy on keeping his restaurant business alive by offering drive-thru, deliveries, and curbside pickup.
Then, in September 2020, he started repairing cars for strangers. Working on vehicles again gave him the chance to relate to his father and speak with him, even though he’s gone.
“It makes me feel like he’s right there,” Eliot said. “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.”
Eliot believes that helping the community is his calling.
“A lot of people turn to their pastors or psychiatrists to open up about their situations, but others turn to their communities,” he said.
“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.”
What an extraordinary man! Please share this story to make Eliot’s incredible deeds known.