Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

As Collegetown restaurants and businesses empty out, service workers turn to an alternative source of income: a virtual tip jar.

March 25, 2020

Virtual ‘Ithaca Tip Jar’ Provides Financial and Moral Support for Local Service Workers

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With scores of businesses closed to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) executive order to halt all non-essential activity, Matthew Kopel, a Cornell library employee, started a phonebook-style, virtual “Ithaca Tip Jar” to help support service workers that rely on tips as a source of income.

Modelled after a similar initiative in Pittsburgh, local service workers, such as bartenders, hairdressers, waitstaff and others, can sign up for the Ithaca Tip Jar by providing their name, business and payment service to receive tips.

“I saw that it had been done in Pittsburgh, and as someone who has been a part of the service industry over many past jobs, thought it was a good idea,” Kopel said. “It took just a few minutes to set up. We all have to do something to help our community during this time.”

Kopel said that it is important to recognize service workers employed at Ithaca businesses that are impacted by the vast, economic shutdown. Employees in the industry, he said, are an integral aspect of the community by keeping businesses running smoothly.

“Service workers are our neighbors, families and friends,” Kopel said. “If you want Ithaca to ever be able to go ‘back to normal’ later on, then do what you can to help these folks achieve some normalcy, to know they are valued and to know we have their backs.”

There are currently over 300 names signed up to receive tips on the platform, which is hosted through a simple online spreadsheet.

“The truth is I don’t know if it is helping,” Kopel said. “But there are now over 300 people listed on the sheet, which means word is spreading, and hopefully folks are tipping out these vital members of our community.”

Verity Woitach, owner of V’s Hair Salon, shut down her business after Cuomo’s mandate, prompting her to fill out the online form.

“I think that the Ithaca Tip Jar would be helpful towards myself and other people in the service industry for helping with everyday things like gas, food, some smaller bills, et cetera that we usually would use tip money for,” Woitach said.

The information on the Tip Jar is self-reported by the members of the community and provided “as is.” Money is not collected centrally in any way and those tipping on the platform must pay separately using a cash transfer application, like PayPal or Venmo.

According to Kopel, individuals who wish to send a tip should independently verify the legitimacy of its recipient.

Kopel is planning on collaborating with Colin Thrapp, a local restaurant industry worker and computer science student at Tompkins Cortland Community College, to build and improve the current platform.