In a world viewed through the narrow lens of the media where cynicism thrives, there’s a larger and broader parallel universe that seldom makes the evening news. That’s where restaurant owner and former auto mechanic Eliot Middleton resides, using his skill to help those in need.
Before 36-year old Middleton opened his restaurant, he was an accomplished auto mechanic for 15-years.
“My dad was a mechanic, and I would hang out around his shop since I was 4 years old,” Middleton said. “I’ve always been fascinated by cars.”
After he graduated high school, Middleton went on to train as an auto mechanic, In 2004, he and his dad opened their own auto service shop. That’s when he realized that many of the working poor within his rural community, where there was no public transportation, struggled to pay for repairs.
“There’s no public transportation in the area whatsoever,” explained Middleton. The former auto mechanic lives in McClellanville, a small fishing town on the Atlantic coast with a population of about 600 people. “We don’t have taxis and Ubers. Without a car, people don’t have a way to get around.”
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“We had a lot of single moms as customers, and we always ran into problems with them not having enough funds,” Middleton recalled. “We spoke about trying to find a way to help them, but we never had the chance to sit down and figure something out.”
Eliot Middleton is a leader in his community, and is demonstrating perfectly what happens when we work together to help those in need.— Spike Cohen (@RealSpikeCohen) November 21, 2021
Thank you Eliot, and everyone involved with Middleton's Village To Village Foundation, for everything you are doing.
YOU are the Power. pic.twitter.com/m0Ee0gGCfs
Unfortunately, before the father and son could figure out a way to help their neighbors, Middleton’s father’s health began to decline. In 2014, they were forced to close the shop for good.
On the bright side, Middleton had another passion aside from being an auto mechanic. He always thought he could do well opening his own BBQ restaurant. In 2020, he and a partner opened the “Middleton & Maker Village BBQ” in the neighboring town of Awendaw, South Carolina.
In spite of his new business, the idea of helping others by using his skills as a mechanic was still a priority. The only issue that remained was “how”. The answer to this question came to him by accident after hosting a food drive in 2020, and seeing a number of local families walking more than four miles to get a hot meal due to the lack of autos and public transportation to get to the drive.
Middleton thought that perhaps social media would be the means to barter for junk cars, using Facebook and asking individuals to donate their broken down vehicles. He later pledged to trade slabs of his specialty, barbecued ribs, in exchange for junk cars.
Eliot Middleton spoke with us following a successful Christmas event as he and Middleton's Village To Village Foundation continue to give cars to those in need! ❤️🚗— ABC News 4 (@ABCNews4) December 29, 2021
Learn more: https://t.co/E5erMOb8zr#chsnews pic.twitter.com/B0VfafpaNw
After receiving the first donated car in January of 2020, Middleton’s life suddenly took an unfortunate and emotional turn after his beloved father passed in March.
Middleton recalled “Things started changing in my life, and I couldn’t focus on the car program the way I wanted to.”
By September of 2020, Middleton felt he was ready to fix cars with a fresh new outlook, and to fulfill his dream of honoring his father’s legacy. He repaired his first car, a 1997 navy Toyota Camry, and donated it to an unemployed single mother with two children, one of whom is disabled and requires regular medical appointments.
“She was astonished about the car being hers and she was crying,” said Middleton. He had heard about the woman’s financial challenges through a mutual friend on Facebook and offered to surprise her with the car. “That felt great. I could feel my dad’s presence around me, and I could hear him saying ‘this is exactly what we always wanted to do’.”
The idea of donating junk cars to Middleton, where he would fix them and give them to people in need caught on like wildfire. It prompted him to start his own nonprofit called “Middleton’s Village to Village” to bolster the effort. Nearly 100 vehicles have been donated so far and ready to be repaired.