Raising a glass to help displaced workers

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Jeremy Cooney’s team is hosting a digital happy hour today called “Rochester Tips Back!” to support food and beverage service workers impacted by the coronavirus crisis. 

“We’re facing these really uncertain times where we don’t know when these restaurants are going to open back up, so what are these folks going to do? We have to take care of them, we have to help them,” says Cooney, former chief of staff for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and a state Senate hopeful in the 56th District.

The idea, which came together in three days, stemmed from a conversation with Ryan Dooling, Cooney’s campaign manager, who also bartends at Murphy’s Law and Enright’s Thirst Parlor, two watering holes in the city of Rochester. 

“He said to me, ‘Jeremy, if I didn’t have this job working for you, I don’t know how I’d pay my rent.’ That really hit me hard,” Cooney says. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has hurt many Rochester restaurants, which New York ordered closed this week except for takeout and delivery service. Some outlets are exploring innovative ways to keep the flow of orders going through takeout options, for food and cocktails, but many local restaurants and bars have been challenged to stay open.

With the help of Tuesday Digital, a local firm that will manage the technical aspects of the event, “Rochester Tips Back!” will be able to accommodate up to 50,000 people via YouTube. To enter the room, visitors can click a dedicated YouTube link available here. A free event—no ticket or password is required—the happy hour will feature five local bartenders, including bartender Donny Clutterbuck from the restaurant Cure, who will share their stories and offer a tutorial on mixing their favorite cocktail. Dooling will emcee the event, which begins at 6 p.m.

Viewers will be able to “tip” these bartenders through the Catholic Family Center, which will distribute the funds to out-of-work-bartenders. 

“People can make that gift right online with their credit card in a safe and secure platform and the money will be dedicated to providing emergency services for this affected population,” says Cooney, who stresses that none of these funds will support his campaign.

The goal is to raise as many tips as possible, from not only Cooney campaign supporters but also the community at large. There is no hard ask, Cooney says, but he hopes participants will be engaged over the course of the hour and be generous in their donations. Depending on the success of this event, there could be more in store.

“I want Rochester to hear from our friends and neighbors,” Cooney says. “Using technology like this will allow us to connect the dots.”

Setting up an event quickly to accept funds could have been difficult, but he gives Rochester credit for being nimble in responding to a need.

“At the end of the day we’re going to be able to try out through technology a platform to connect people who care with the people who need help,” Cooney says. 

While the digital happy hour demonstrates one way to support the service industry, if successful, it could be an example of innovation in philanthropy.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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