‘What do we do now?’: Virtual Tip Jar helps local unemployed bartenders, service workers

You can directly support your favorite bartender or barista

ROANOKE, Va. – Restaurants, bars, nail salons and every other service industry have been flipped upside down by coronavirus shutdowns, leaving hundreds of people in the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia unemployed and not able to pay the bills.

Thanks to a virtual tip jar, the community can directly help their favorite bartender or barista.

Now that coronavirus is calling the shots, bartenders Dane Peterson and Brandon Blevins aren’t pouring them.

“It’s kind of like, ‘What do we do now?’” said Peterson, who works at Fortunato and Stellina, but was recently laid off.

As restaurants and bars shut their doors to customers because of COVID-19, both Peterson and Blevins found themselves out of a job.

“It’s scary. It’s really scary actually,” said Peterson.

"It’s very uncertain times,” said Blevins, who worked at Fork in the Market.

Workers who once relied on tips don’t know how they’ll pay their bills.

“We make $2.25 an hour, essentially... It’s impossible to live off that, obviously,” Peterson said. "And now with the restaurant closing, we’re without an income.”

Russell Chisolm is a coffee roaster in the New River Valley. He’s worked behind the counter for 20 years and instantly knew the shutdowns would have a massive ripple effect.

On social media, he saw someone in Pittsburgh set up a virtual tip jar to help out service workers there. So he and his friend Katherine Wilkin figured, why not start one for the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia?

Local bartenders, waiters, stylists or any other service workers out of a job can sign up and hopefully get a tip online.

“If you’re a regular in a coffee shop and you’re not seeing your favorite barista everyday, you can go find that person directly and say, ‘Hey I miss you and, you know, making coffee at home is not the same, but here’s a couple of dollars until we get through this,’” Chisolm said.

The virtual tip jars went live last week and already there’s more than 700 names on the two lists combined.

“I could even see that growing to three to four times that,” Blevins said of the Roanoke Valley list.

Giving a tip is easy: Head to the Roanoke Valley Virtual Tip Jar or the Southwest Virginia Virtual Tip Jar. Click on the link to send a tip, then find your favorite bartender or stylist and pay them directly using CashApp, Venmo or PayPal.

There’s also a random name generator option or you can donate to a pool that administrators will distribute the tips to servers in desperate need.

“Other people helping people is a great way to feel connected,” Blevins said.

“Reach out to people. It’s a good time to spread some love and hope,” said Peterson.

If you are a service industry worker who is out of a job and want to sign up to be on the tip jar lists, click here for Roanoke Valley and click here for Southwest Virginia.

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