ST. CLOUD -- When House of Pizza Sartell bartender Kristin Hilsgen learned in March that an Executive Order from Governor Tim Walz would temporarily close bars and restaurants statewide, she knew she needed to do something to help.

“I’m a mom, I have a family of four, I'm a single income provider, and I’ve been bartending my whole life,” she said. “When this stay at home order began, and we were out of work for two weeks, I was like, ‘okay, we can make it for a couple of weeks, that’s fine.’ But when it was extended to seven weeks, I thought, there are a lot of us who are going to have some problems.”

For the last week, Hilsgen has operated the Central MN Nice Virtual Tip Jar through a Facebook page. All donations to the jar are converted into gift cards from businesses like Coborn's and Target, and distributed to unemployed workers to help cover some essentials like groceries, diapers or gas.

“I know a lot of people in the community who work at all the different bars,” she said. “I know from personal experience how hard this is, and how much it’s affected me, so I want to try to give back to the people who are out of work right now.”

And it’s working; to date, the tip jar has collected a little over $1,000 from 24 donors through Facebook, and Hilsgen has received around $200 worth of donated gift cards via the mail.

Hilsgen has been bartending in the St. Cloud area for about 15 years. She says the service industry is a tight-knit group that cares about one another – and many are struggling.

“To be honest, a lot of people feel defeated,” Hilsgen said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people in the industry who still haven’t gotten their first month of unemployment. There are a lot of people wondering, ‘how am I going to pay the electric bill?’ My fundraiser, unfortunately, isn’t going to raise enough money to help them with that, but I want to try to at least give them a gift card to Coborn’s, because they deliver.”

Hilsgen says anyone in need of a gift card – not just service industry workers – can send a message to the page and she'll do her best to help them out.

“It spreads so far,” she said. “It’s not just the bars and restaurants themselves. It’s the people who supply the alcohol to them, or the food. It’s other industries – the hair salons, tattoo shops. It’s crazy how far this chain goes.”

To learn more or donate, visit the Central MN Nice Virtual Tip Jar on Facebook.


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