Students utilize Pittsburgh virtual tip jar

Written By Dara Collins, Editor-in-Chief

Danielle Wenner started the Pittsburgh Virtual Tip Jar the day after Governor Tom Wolf’s announcement of non-essential business closures.

Wenner, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Associate Director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), wanted to help Pittsburgh’s service industry workers continue to receive tips from their customers and other community members.

“My goal was to find the quickest and easiest way to get something online fast Monday morning to fill what I saw as a gap,” Wenner said.

Wolf ordered all non-essential businesses to close on the evening of March 15, and the tip jar went live on March 16 as businesses began to shut their doors or switch to take-out and delivery only options.

“After casting about on social media for suggestions about how to do it, I saw a virtual tip jar in Washington D.C. and largely tried to duplicate their effort,” Wenner said.

This is an independent project hosted on CMU’s Center for Ethics and Policy website and it is accessible to the public 24/7.

Workplaces affected include bars, restaurants, salons, beauty lounges, valet services and nightclubs. Pittsburgh service workers from Crazy Mocha to Hofbrauhaus to Sport Clips and everything in between have added their names to the list in hopes of gaining extra funds.

The list currently boasts almost 7,000 entries, but some entries are repeated. If an individual is looking for a specific service industry worker, they can use “ctrl+f” to find the specific individual.

Anthony Ausburn, a senior multimedia major and host at downtown’s Ten Penny, is named on the list.

Ausburn has been employed at Ten Penny since September 2019 and faces an indefinite recall date due to the COVID-19 crisis, which impacts his funds toward living essentials.

“I live off-campus, so I spend $95 a month on a bus pass to get to and from campus and work, I rely on my paychecks to pay my rent and other bills,” Ausburn said. “With no income and bills not being frozen or delayed, it’s definitely been pretty stressful.”

Once Ausburn saw a shared link to the virtual tip jar, he immediately sent it to everyone he knows in the service industry.

“I saw two of my co-workers share the link to the tip jar on Facebook and thought this was such an interesting and thoughtful idea,” Ausburn said.

Since joining the tip jar community, Ausburn has received two virtual tips. He also awaits approval for unemployment.

Senior intelligence and national security major Kaetlyn Bowser also sits on the virtual list awaiting tips in addition to unemployment. Bowser is a server and bartender at Primanti Brothers and Lincoln Avenue Brewery.

Also unsure of a definite recall date, Bowser is worried about her current financial situation.

“I have no money coming in,” Bowser said. “I am stressed because I cannot finish my senior year at my school. I have not received unemployment yet, so I am trying to be very cautious with the money I was trying to save. The money I was making at my jobs were used for living essentials to help get me through college.”

The listing sheet includes information on the worker’s name, where they work and whether the worker’s hours have been cut or the establishment has been closed. The last column includes PayPal or Venmo information for the worker.

If a service industry worker is not already listed, they are able to submit an entry by filling out a form that answers the four questions above.

Although the list exists through CMU’s Center for Ethics and Policy website, the Center does not monitor the entries on the sheet and encourages those sending “tips” to check the authenticity of the recipient.

Wenner says because no money passes through her hands, it’s difficult to gauge the impact the tip jar is having on the community.

“What we do know is that a lot of people signed up, indicating that they are in need, about 6,800 last I checked,” Wenner said. “My hope is that people in the Pittsburgh area who have secure employment and income during this crisis will make it a regular part of their routine to consult the tip jar and send money that they might otherwise be spending on a night out or a trip to the salon to the workers who have been displaced by this disruption in everyday business.”

To end this disruption, Bowser advises everyone to do their part in making communities safe again.

“This is a stressful time, and it is important for everyone to stay at home so everyone can get back to their normal lives,” Bowser said.

According to the Center for Ethics and Policy website, there are 10 other communities offering virtual tip jars to their service industry workers. The locations include Annapolis, Md., Birmingham, Ala., Cambridge, Mass., Cincinnati, Ohio, Ithaca, N.Y., Madison, Wis., Moore, Okla., Rehoboth Beach, Del., St. Louis, Mo. and Washington D.C.