On Fri., May 5, Muddy Waters Oyster Bar bartender Lissa Brennan (an occasional contributor to CP
) will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo by giving back to the community, one shift at a time. Brennan’s initiative, TIP the Scales, invites service-industry workers to donate their tips from a chosen shift to a cause they feel passionately about. For Cinco de Mayo, participants are asked to donate to an organization that supports undocumented immigrants and refugees.
“It started because people who work in the service industry love to give their money away whenever possible,” says Brennan, laughing. In the past, Brennan has donated her tips from shifts, but with the incoming of the new presidential administration, she was inspired to tell friends that she would donate her tips from her inauguration day shift to Planned Parenthood.
“I said that I was doing it, and someone else said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m doing this with my tips too,’” says Brennan. The effort snowballed through a Facebook page and word of mouth, and Brennan and her friends “decided to try to get as many people collectively involved but independently."
“It’s not through another organization," says Brennan. “It’s just a bunch of people working in the service industry deciding to give to the organization of their choice.” The result of first TIP the Scales was around $25,000 of self-reported donations, mostly from Pittsburgh service-industry workers, as well as participants in Austin; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Portland, Ore.; Chicago; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Miami; Seattle; and London, England, as well as some towns in the Caribbean.
Brennan emphasizes that while she is convening this effort, participants are donating to these organizations on their own. She doesn’t collect receipts or money and says it’s something that is “completely independent and flexible.” “If someone wants to donate all their tips for the night, or a specified percentage, or donate $10 because that’s what they can spare, then they can do that,” she says. Participants are also encouraged to pick an organization they value, although Brennan will suggest organizations if asked. Service workers are also invited to pick symbolic shifts, if they aren’t scheduled on Cinco de Mayo.
Brennan will be donating all of her tips from her Cinco de Mayo shift to Immigrant Services and Connections. She’ll also be making a matching donation of her own on top of her earnings. She’s also clear about why this cause is important to her. “Part of the reason that I chose this particular date and type of recipient is because the service industry and anything involving food in general in the United States depends on undocumented workers ... whether it is people working in kitchens or picking tomatoes,” she says “I don’t think there’s a person in the service industry anywhere in the United States who hasn’t worked with an undocumented worker, whether they knew it or not.”
ISAC is a Pittsburgh organization that seeks to connect “refugees and immigrants to services” like food, housing, transportation, child care and employment opportunities. It’s funded by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and is a six-agency partnership with Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Casa San Jose (a program of the Sisters of St. Joseph),
Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, Latino Family Center of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Northern Area Multi-Service Center, and South Hills Interfaith Movement.
Brennan hopes to make TIP the Scales an ongoing initiative. To get involved and stay up to date as a patron or member of the service industry, visit the Facebook page
. And on Cinco de Mayo, ask your favorite bartender if they’re are involved, or just go see Brennan behind the bar at Muddy Waters, in East Liberty, and grab a drink for justice.