JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Willard family served Christmas meals on Wednesday, but not just for their family. The owners of Willard's Bar-B-Q Junction in the Lakeshore area of Jacksonville invited strangers into their restaurant for Christmas.
"It's for people may be down on their luck this time of year and we just wanted to give them a place they can come and feel at home and feel welcomed," the restaurant's owner, James Willard, said. "And our first responders, we just wanted to let them know, 'Hey, we know you’re out there protecting us during this time' and I’m doing this because I want to and they’re doing this because they have to."
"It's huge. It just lets us know how important we are because we really don't hear all that," Lieutenant Heath Mooney with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said. "We kind of just go handle it and the situation goes away, but for people in the community to really reach out to us, it's special. It's cool."
It was a meal complete with all the trimmings. Willard's wife had the idea to offer free meals last year because they said they have the means to do so. Christmas 2019 marks the second year in a row that the restaurant has offered free meals to those who need them most.
“When they come in the door, we try to let them know, ‘Hey you’re welcomed here’ and the first responders and stuff -- they know we’ve got their back and they know when they come here they’re welcomed," Willard said.
"I will always remember this Christmas because this is my first time being in this type of situation, so I am very grateful that they offer these types of things here," one woman eating a meal at Willard's said.
A family restaurant welcoming in strangers who, this Christmas, have become family.