When Eliot Middleton isn't busy cooking, you can find him bent under the hood of a car.
In his spare time, Middleton, the owner of Middleton's Village BBQ in rural Awendaw, South Carolina, fixes up donated junkers to gift them to community members in need. Public transportation options are meager in the small coastal town, so having a car is essential.
"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?" Eliot told 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."
"Giving someone a car can change all that, and it does change all that," he added. "I want to help everybody looking to better themselves when transportation is what's holding them back."
Eliot, 38, learned how to fix cars from his father Kevin Wayne Middleton Sr. For 17 years they worked together, even starting their own mechanic shop. Sadly, Kevin passed away suddenly in February 2020. A few months later, in September 2020, Eliot began repairing cars for strangers. He told CNN that it's his way of healing.
"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," he said. "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."
Eliot Middleton Car Donation
Today, a year after the sudden death of his beloved father, Eliot is honoring his legacy through his work. Through his foundation, Middleton's Village To Village Foundation, he's collected 100 cars and surprised more than 30 of his neighbors with a set of wheels. He told Fox he believes he has performed nearly $48,000 in repairs. The money comes from fundraising and from his own pocket.
"A lot of people turn to their pastors or psychiatrists to open up about their situations, but others turn to their communities," Eliot told CNN. "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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Eliot said he hopes more car owners will consider donating their vehicles before junking them.
"It'll be a much greater feeling if your car—that you're about to salvage—can go to a family in need and help them along the way," he told Fox.