When Melissa Corrigan (Philosophy, '11) saw the effects of COVID-19 on the local restaurant industry, she knew she wanted to help. When a friend shared an online tip jar for out-of-work restaurant workers in Charlottesville, Corrigan knew it could be adapted to fit Hampton Roads and beyond.
"I saw that it was a simple open-source Google Doc, so I copied one for Hampton Roads. I also created lists for several cities in which I have friends who live and work," Corrigan said. "Upon further contemplation, I thought it would be best if there were one central, organized repository for these links, so I created the Virtual Tip Jars website."
That idea has grown into a website had more than 60 cities, with dozens more being added, and has now expanded outside Hampton Roads. Corrigan's 15-year-old son serves as her web design assistant. They've also started a second site, Restaurant Aid, with more resources.
Corrigan explained the difference between the two: "Virtual Tip Jars just contains lists of links to individual cities' Virtual Tip Jars. Restaurant Aid is a more comprehensive resource for both unemployed service-industry professionals and for the general public looking to donate or for ways to help."
The Tip Jar feature is a direct transaction between a patron and a restaurant worker listed on the site, while Restaurant Aid provides links to local and national grants organizations, information on local meals available to restaurant workers and an option to donate money that is then used to buy electronic grocery gift cards for restaurant workers and their families.
The websites are a natural offshoot of work she was doing prior to the pandemic. Corrigan worked in the nonprofit sector for eight years, then began a consulting firm, Momentum Services, that specializes in management, fund development and marketing for small businesses and nonprofits. From there, she started a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit entity, Hands and Feet 24/7, offering grassroots, street-level direct service projects such as food distribution to the homeless community, distribution of period packs, school supplies, etc. Since Restaurant Aid is an offshoot of Hands and Feet 24/7, donations are tax deductible.
She notes that since the tip jar is a direct cash transfer transaction between the donor and the individual servers/bartenders/service-industry professional, that is not considered a charitable donation for tax purposes.
And so far, it seems to be helping.
"I've gotten quite a few stories via email and Facebook messenger of individuals receiving totally unexpected tips, sometimes in amounts of over $100," Corrigan said. "On Restaurant Aid, we've received almost $500 in donations thus far for the Grocery Card initiative."