ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Atwater’s Best BBQ & Soul Food is a staple in South St. Petersburg.
Since March, it's been providing free meals to children, seniors and anyone who is in need. The mission continues three months later and neighbors on Nextdoor are calling on others to donate food or money to help owner Eric Atwater.
“To see the people I feed, that I feed, and I help, you know to see their faces, you know what I’m saying, it’s sunshine. It’s happiness,” he said.
He’s turned his restaurant from making a profit to making sure the community is fed.
“You want breakfast?” he asked a man walking up to the shop. “They got you. They ready.”
When 10 Tampa Bay first shared Eric's story in late March, he’d fed about 500 children. Exactly 3 months later, he says he's fed more than 5,000 people. In addition to milk and food, he’s even provided books to kids.
“I remember the first kid, the first kid. I remember the first one and since we served, we done served over 5,000. We’ve done served families, we done served seniors and serve the whole community. We done did a lot of work,” he said.
But, he can’t do it alone. Neighbors know that.
On Nextdoor, Suzanne posted in the Greater Woodlawn neighborhood: “Please help if you can – Even a couple of dollars (or a couple of onions!) would go a long way to help some hungry folks.”
The donations are coming. There have been boxes of tomatoes and other fresh produce, premade meals, milk, money and more dropped off at Atwater’s located at 895 22nd Ave. St. Petersburg.
“I cry to hear all the nice comments and all the kind words, and it touches me. So, when somebody gives something that makes me give more,” Atwater said.
He and his family let people know to grab a bag and fill it up.
At lunchtime, Atwater told one woman, “We got lunches! Get some lunch!”
The calls to action from neighbors are heartfelt and bring tears to Atwater's eyes every time he sees donations left at the door or people he’s never met stopping by and giving what they can.
“Do it for love and for your community, for your people and help folks, bro. And that’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s all about,” he said.