JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Regina McKay is known for making a coconut pie that will make your mouth water with just the mere mention. But, her she also has a way with helping others in need.
With a little coordinating by her sister, employees working behind the counter inside her restaurant and the two women who nominated her for the Gr8 Acts of Kindness, a big surprise was planned for inside "Gina's Place" inside the Fountain Square Shopping Center during the lunchtime rush at noon.
Passing by numerous restaurant patrons on the way inside the restaurant, including Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd, I "cut in line" to surprise Regina McKay working near the grill.
"Regina McKay, you are needed up front," the cashier said. With a puzzled look, she turned around to find not just the regular customer line; but people holding up cameras, cell phones and patrons rising from their seats to join in the fun.
"You are our next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness," I told Regina. "You have fed people who are homeless. You have given them jobs. You have taken them blankets and clothing and you are a wonderful friend to this community."
With tears in her eyes, Regina responded. "I do what God wants us to do-- take care of each other," she said.
Friends, family, and customers filled her restaurant to capacity all for the woman who has made a difference in their lives.
"You so deserve it," Robin Saito said. "I don't know anybody that deserves it more than you do," another friend hugs Regina around the next.
"I appreciate it so much," Regina said. " You're my family. You'll always be my family. You know that."
Then she spots another friend who has long since moved away. "You drove five hours for this?" Regina asks.
Jo Kye knows first-hand what Regina does for others. "Especially someone like me, I have been in prison for the last eight years of my life," Kye said. But, Regina saw Jo's potential and put her to work.
"Miss Gina took a chance on me and hired me and just every day I worked here, I loved it!" Kye said. "I loved working for her."
So when it was time to leave and go back to her home in Northwest Arkansas, Jo left her with this necklace. "It says, 'you don't always see them. Good friends are like stars. You know they're there," Kye read the inscription.
"She's my good one," Regina said. "We talk or text every day."
Back in the kitchen, Regina introduces the newest member to her staff.
"This is Paula. This is her second day," Regina said. "She's new." Paula is a cancer survivor and needed help paying her bills. So, Regina hired her.
"She puts legs on her actions," Bessie Richmond, one of two of Regina's nominators said. "She's probably the most compassionate giving person I've ever met."
"She collects blankets and socks and gloves for the homeless," Donna Watkins said. Watkins also nominated Regina for the Gr8 Acts of Kindness. "She could just go out and buy them and give them to them. But, she asks people to come in and donate. She gives gift certificates to do that."
Regina collects travel-sized toiletry items and takes them to the Salvation Army in hopes of helping homeless people. Giving is important to Regina.
"To get a blessing, you have to give a blessing," Regina said. "You do!"
And yet, life has taken much from her.
"As an adult, I struggle with depression," she said. "I lost my son in 1982. He died at birth and I never really had any closure from that. And then I lost my Dad in April 2014 and then my Mom in November 2014. My little brother died December 29 last year. It's like the grieving… you can't get over one before another dies."
All three were involved in the family business she carries on today.
"My Mother, Dad and I opened this in 1983," Regina said of her business, now called "Gina's Place," but formerly known as "Ann's Restaurant."
"My Mom went to Simmons First Bank and got a loan for 500 dollars and we opening this restaurant." Home-cooked comfort food became their trademark. "We'll have to get the big dumpling pan. Put it right here," Regina tells one of her cooks in the kitchen.
"Couldn't find a more deserving person!" Sheriff Boyd tells Regina.
"KAIT and First Community Bank have cash for you," I said as I counted out $408 into Regina's hand.
"The Bible says you do stuff and you don't brag about what you do," Regina said. "You help your brother out when you can and that's what I do."
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