Ohio Bars And Restaurants Are Closed But One Cleveland Man Is #StillTipping

Jason Herron started #StillTipping with a few friends and a few hundred dollars as a one-off way to help some of the out-of-work bartenders and servers they know. In six weeks, they've given away more than $12,000. [Gayle S. Putrich / ideastream]

Jason Herron would be the first to tell you how much he loves a night out: good drinks, good food, good times with good friends.

If you go out enough, become a regular at a few places, those friends eventually include the bartenders and servers that help make your good times so good. So even though Ohio’s bars and restaurants are closed under coronavirus restrictions, Herron is #StillTipping every Saturday night on Facebook Live (and that’s #coronakind!).

With the help of friends and complete strangers, he has given away more than $12,000 (and counting).

It started with a few friends and a couple hundred bucks in gift cards, meaning to help out some of the now-struggling service industry workers they've gotten to know over the years.

“Working at a car dealership long hours, I’d go to the bars a lot, I’d go to restaurants because I didn't want to go home and cook. So I got to know a lot of waiters, waitresses, bartenders, et cetera...,” he said. "So when this all happened, a lot of friends got put out of work."

Herron contacted a few buddies with the idea of pooling some money, getting a few gift cards – one for $200 and another for $100 – and throwing the names of anyone who said they wanted in via Facebook into a bowl.

“I figured, we'll put something on my page and then our friends can put their names in and we'll do a random drawing help out two of our friends,” he said.

It only took a few hours for Herron’s idea to explode into on online mini-movement.

“So I made the post. It was Friday, March 20, I’ll never forget it now. I just said, hey, I'm going to draw two gift cards tomorrow for our service industry workers that are our friends that are out of work to help them out,” he said. “I posted and it was probably around 6:30 p.m. Boom, post, turn my phone off. Whatever. Check it about 8:30 and I saw there's 100 comments. I was like, 100 comments? Holy cow, we thought it would be 20 people!”

He texted his friends with the news, stressed a little about having to write out 100 names and establishments out on slips of paper and went to bed. He woke up the next morning to 1,000 people hoping to get in on the first drawing.

Since then, Herron estimates the number of names collected at “easily 4,000." Through the drawings, he has given away $12,200 to 77 people – “all donations, every penny,” he said. Another $1,100 will be given away May 2, marking the 11th round of drawings over seven weeks.

The #StillTipping Facebook Live event now has T-shirts ($25 each, with proceeds going into the giveaway pot) and a regular viewing – and donating! – audience. There are even occasional drinking games, aimed at raising more money to give away.

“I’ve got people telling me their whole families get together to watch this,” Herron said. “And the people that are winning, a lot of them are now logged on to watch and we get to see their reactions. I'm getting people calling me on Facebook Messenger after they win, just bawling their eyes out, saying 'I don't know how I was going to eat tomorrow.' Oh, my God. I mean, it is dire. They are just so grateful for even a hundred dollars.”

The drawings are totally random, he said, and come from two basket – one with just the names of family and friends, mostly local to Northeast Ohio, since that was the original premise. But that basket is nearly empty now, he said.

“Everyone we don't know goes is a big basket that gets probably 70 percent of the drawings,” he said. Names stay in their respective baskets week after week, only coming out after that person wins.

handwritten names to be drawn out of a basket

Herron has some help now, but the thousands of names and locations are still handwritten. [Jason Herron]

The concept also has expanded beyond Northeast Ohio and even Herron himself.

“We had a winner from Toledo last time Tuesday night. We don't know anybody from Toledo, so, it's cool… there’s been Sandusky, Toledo, Columbus. It's all over Ohio,” he said.

Down in Southwest Ohio, Sara Spears has started a similar Friday night drawing, #KeepTipping, inspired by Herron’s efforts.

“She reached out to me, she even took notes, she’s super cool. And she's just doing it for the same reason we did,” Herron said. “She saw the people struggling and she told me that she prayed on it, prayed for what to do to help, and then she was on Facebook and she found Jason Herron and #StillTipping and said ‘I need to do the same thing for my friends and the people I know.’”

Herron’s dedicated #StillTipping Venmo account (Jason-Herron-19) is open and transparent, so donors can track the cash using the hashtag and he continues to accept names for the drawings on his Facebook page. The next drawing is at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 2 and a “bonus drawing” is planned for 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5 – Cinco de Mayo.

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