Lisa Thomas-McMillan wanted to help ensure that no one in her town goes to bed wondering where their next meal is going to come from.
When Lisa Thomas-McMillan was in second grade, a friend, who always had a better sandwich, traded half of her sandwich for half of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich every single day. It might have just been a small act of sharing, but in retrospect, it forged a person who would spend her whole life sharing food, only this time expecting nothing in return. Drexell & Honeybee’s in downtown Brewton near the Florida border is a restaurant run by Lisa Thomas-McMillan and her husband Freddie, reported The Washington Post. What's unique about this restaurant in a small Alabama town? The restaurant has no cash register and its menu has no prices. You don't have to pay for your food but you can choose to at the donation box.
The Black couple wants to ensure that no one ever goes hungry because they can't afford it. "It's ok to grow up poor," said Lisa, who's eager to help them. The restaurant is run by donations and it's up to each customer to pay what they want. As Lisa Thomas-McMillan said, "If you go up to the donation box and you ain't got one real cent, nobody will ever know and guess what, we don't care." Once you finish your meal, you can leave whatever you want at a private booth near the entrance, even if it's just a thank-you note. Lisa and Freddie watched countless students and a few elderly people struggle to scrape through the change they needed for a meal while working at the cafeteria at Coastal Alabama Community College. Their motto is "We Feed the Need."
According to a 2018 report from Hunger Free America, Alabama ranks among the highest in the country for food insecurity. More than 800,000 Alabamians went to bed not always know where their next meal was coming from. The couple wanted to do their bit to help the people in the state. "I have found out ... a lot of elderly people are coming hungry because a lot of them can't pay for their medicine and buy food. Food stamps are not adequate," she said. The restaurant only has two employees — Lisa Thomas-McMillan and her husband Freddie. Those who want to volunteer can help out at the restaurant, with some working in exchange for food. Drexell & Honeybee’s specializes in Southern dishes including fried chicken, cornbread, and collard greens. The couple said there's no better feeling than knowing that their customers leave “with a full stomach, a full heart, and the understanding that you are loved and worthy of love.”
"The hours are long; the cost is high, but it's a calling for us. The notes people leave in our box tell us how much a need there is," said Lisa, reported Alabama Living. "I got one the other day that said, 'Because of you, a family of four was able to eat today.' That's worth a million dollars to me." Lisa said the average donation is $110 per day with $5 being the most common donation. One diner left a $1,000 donation.
The couple has struggled to keep the restaurant open during the pandemic, with a functioning restaurant proving risky. With fewer people visiting, the donations have also dried up making it impossible for them to serve those who can't afford a meal. The couple found a way out but were forced to pitch in from their retirement savings. “The end of June we figured out a way to do to-go orders and keep everyone safe…It is working out very well and we feel so proud to be able to do what we do, with Coronavirus affecting so many people,” said Lisa. “When my husband and I opened, we agreed to put a portion of our retirement back into the running of the restaurant… as you can imagine donations are down, but we will continue to try and be of service to all the people that come to our door.”
Lisa Thomas-McMillan said that 100% of the donations go back into serving people food. So, what do they get out of it? The same thing that Lisa's friend got when shared that sandwich with her back in second grade — Joy.