Growing up in one of Alabama’s poorest counties, Lisa Thomas-McMillan learned the difference between “want” and “need” early on.
Lisa was part of a family of 14 from Brewton, a small town about 10 minutes north of Florida. Even though they could barely put food on their own table, she recalls her parents looking out for their neighbors and helping whenever they could. Their powerful lessons in generosity have followed her throughout her life!
One day, Lisa was standing in line at the grocery store when she saw an elderly woman struggling to pay for her groceries. She was searching through her purse trying to get about $12 together. Lisa stepped up to cover the items, and an idea was planted in her mind.
“I was like, ‘Wow. She can’t afford $12 of food, and if you don’t have that, you really are doing without,'” she said. Then she found out that many local seniors were going hungry each day, so she resolved to take action. She gathered a list of 27 names and began preparing each of them a hearty breakfast before she went to work as an insurance agent.
A brief stint working at a local community college showed Lisa it wasn’t just the elderly who were going hungry — it was everyone. After some trial and error, she and her husband created their own 501(c)(3) food bank and donations-only kitchen to help out! They called the restaurant Drexell & Honeybee’s, a name Lisa had given the ice cream stand she once dreamed of opening.
With help from a team of volunteers, Lisa works tirelessly to create delicious, nourishing meals five days a week. Drexell & Honeybee’s features all the delicious home-cooked Southern food you can imagine, from meatloaf to collard greens and racks of ribs. It functions like any other restaurant with one huge exception: There are no prices because payment is optional!
Lisa has a donation box fixed to the wall, but there is no pressure for anyone to participate.
“You could drop $1,000 in there, and I would not know,” she said. “You could drop a quarter in there, and I would not know. And there’s a chance you could give so much more than that quarter, but there’s also the chance that a quarter is everything you had left.”
The reason Lisa fought so hard to make this welcoming space without asking for anything in return is simple. “Everyone wants respect; everyone wants to be acknowledged and valued,” she said. “We owe others at least that.”
She loves that she’s created a place where people feel relaxed and leave with a full belly no matter what their financial situation may be. “I want these different folks in this space together,” she said. “I want them interacting. Doing it over food makes the fellowship more natural.”
It’s not unusual to find thank-you notes tucked into the donation box along with money ranging from pocket change to a $100 bill. Lisa appreciates every donation, no matter how small, because it’s not about how much they make.
“A young lady recently told me that what we’re doing here has changed her heart,” Lisa said. “And not because we’re feeding her, but because she’s now volunteering to help others. If I can do that with this? My goodness, that’s it! That’s the joy growing.”
At the end of the day, Drexell & Honeybee’s has done as much for Lisa as Lisa has done for her neighbors!
“I’ve learned the joy you get when you serve others — and don’t mistake it, joy is not the same as happiness,” she explained. “Happiness is fleeting; joy is something down in your soul.”
Lisa saw a need and couldn’t look away! We are so grateful for this reminder that there are true angels out there working for the greater good every day!
Share her story to make your friends smile today.
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