McCLELLANVILLE, S.C. - Eliot Middleton knows the value of transportation and wants to make sure families in his South Carolina community don’t go without it.
Middleton, 38, owns a restaurant, Middleton & Maker Village BBQ, in Awendaw. But he’s also an auto mechanic, and in his spare time, he fixes up used, unwanted cars and donates them to those in need through his charity, Middleton's Village To Village Foundation.
Middleton said he first got the idea in 2019 while hosting a food drive. He noticed several people were walking miles to get a plate but arrived too late while people with cars showed up in time to receive their meals.
"And I just felt from that moment is what compelled me to pretty much do the car program," he told FOX Television Stations Tuesday.
He first fixed up a used car and donated it to a woman in early 2020. Later that fall, he started his foundation, receiving used cars from owners who originally wanted to junk them.
Since then, Middleton has fixed up and donated more than 30 cars. His repairs include a range of work—from replacing tires to replacing engines. He believes he has performed nearly $48,000 in repairs. Funding to purchase parts come from donations or out of his own pocket.
"I do what I can, and I give back what I can because the community supports me and my restaurant," he added.
Middleton said he hasn’t turned away a family, but he does prioritize their requests after speaking with them. As of now, he has nearly 40 people on his waiting list to receive a car.
But owning a car is an additional expense, and Middleton wants to be cautious about not placing a financial burden on families. He stays away from luxury cars, which require expensive parts to keep operating. Instead, he receives and gives away economical cars that aren’t gas guzzlers and can handle used parts in the long term. But if his clients do need future car repairs, he works with them to keep the cost low.
Car ownership appears to be trending upward in the U.S. A new study revealed the percentage of homes without access to a vehicle dropped from 9.3% in 2011 to 8.7% in 2019.
Meanwhile, Middleton wants car owners to think about donating cars 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 said.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.