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Helping hands

Want to help out service industry workers across Pima County who are hurting as the governor-mandated shutdown continues? A local barman has made it easy for the public to tip their favorite bartender or server using the interwebs. 

The group is called Tips for Tucson, hosted by a Facebook page and a google docs spreadsheet. Tips for Tucson even made a video, shot and produced by Tyler Lidwell Videography, and features many bartenders from around Tucson's nightlife scene helping get the word out.   The idea came to local bartender Kyle Blessinger and his friend Eric Smith, a bartender at the temporarily shuttered Kingfisher. Earlier, Smith had forwarded Blessinger a post about what bartenders in Indianapolis were doing to raise cash during the pandemic: a virtual tip jar. 

"I was having a morning whiskey because it's quarantine and there are no rules. Eric had forwarded me this idea," Blessinger said. "We got to talking and I said, 'Dude, we have to do something and this is easy.'" 

Bartenders and servers depend on tips to supplement their income since they are paid a lower minimum wage rate—currently $8 per hour in Arizona. While applying for unemployment benefits may seem like the best option, Blessinger notes there can be a lot of down-time between applying and actually being approved for assistance. It took more than five weeks for Blessinger to receive benefits.

"I filed March 15 and (the application) was in limbo for five weeks or so. They just started paying me last week," Blessinger said. "I've been surviving off of odd jobs like handyman jobs and yard work or donations from silly videos I've made. Some people tipped because they didn't want to hear me sing anymore."

As of earlier this week, there were more than 100 bartenders and servers on the Tips for Tucson spreadsheet, which is updated daily as others join. To help, all you have to do is click on the spreadsheet link posted throughout the Tips for Tucson page, find your favorite bartender and send a virtual tip to their PayPal or Venmo account. 

"There's 100 percent transparency. It's not like people are giving money to Kyle and Kyle is distributing it himself," said bartender David Clark, who also appears in the Tips for Tucson video. "It's literally a spreadsheet that you can look up for favorite bartender that you can transfer money directly to." 

Clark said he believes this is one of the best ways the community can rally around bartenders during this time because most have accounts with peer-to-peer payment systems like PayPal or Venmo.

"I think it's the best way to possibly do something to help, especially with all of us having a Venmo or PayPal account," Clark said. "A lot of times when people set up stuff like this there is the question of, 'Where did the money go?' When someone can directly pay you, and it's not like they're sending a check, I really like that format."

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