Tipping big at Grapevine helps Fort Mill charities

joverman@fortmilltimes.comFebruary 27, 2013 

— Nearly twice a month the bartenders at Grapevine wine bar and wine shop in Baxter Village urge customers to “Tip Big.” The bartenders on those nights aren’t looking to pocket big bucks for themselves. In fact, they aren’t even regular employees of the bar.

They’re part of the charity bartending nights that the Grapevine has been sponsoring since 2008.

The concept is simple – a community group, individual or family who wants to raise money for a nonprofit organization works at the Grapevine on a pre-arranged Wednesday night. The tips they earn, they keep for their charity.

The idea came from a customer who had seen the idea at a bar in another town. Grapevine owners Melanie and David Sills liked the idea and looked into it.

“We thought it was the best way to facilitate large donations, given our small size,” Melanie Sills said.

Since 2008, the charity bartending events have raised more than $50,000. In 2012 alone, they raised $16,443.

“It’s awesome. We only provide the bar and assistance the night of the event but it’s great to say that as a small business we’re helping donate $1,000 to charity every month,” Melanie Sills said.

Community organizations like Rotary Club and Beta Sigma Phi have raised funds for their charitable efforts using the charity bartending opportunity, but Sills said that families and individuals raising funds for a personal cause also are often interested in participating.

Fort Mill resident Sabrina Peterson will bartend at the Grapevine on May 15. This will be the fifth year she has organized a charity bartending night at the Grapevine to raise funds for cancer research.

Peterson’s father died suddenly four and a half years ago from melanoma, and she and her family have raised money for cancer research every year since.

The Grapevine’s charity bartending night has helped them reach their goal each year.

“It’s so much fun,” Peterson said. “It’s never easy to raise money and it’s never easy to ask for money but when you can pull your friends into this awesome bar, bring in their friends and talk to them about the charity and ask for tips, it’s just a unique situation and a lot of fun.”

Peterson has raised approximately $1,500 each year just from tips at the Grapevine on her charity bartending night.

Kristen Fergason will pour drinks and pop corks for patrons on March 6 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., with the majority of the tips she collects going to the United Way in Newtown, Conn. Fergason grew up in Millford, near Newtown, where 20 students and six adults died in the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Fergason has a personal connection to one of the victims, Olivia Engel. Her father, Brian, is a friend of Fergason’s brother. She describes watching the news coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting and the grief she felt for weeks afterward.

“I’m a mom now and I live in this wonderful community, but I’m watching this all play out on TV and I was just heartbroken. It was just the overwhelming sense that these were just babies. It could have been Fort Mill kids,” she said.

Soon she began to think of the first responders, and how difficult it must be for them to carry on after what they had faced. She thought about the many people in the community who would be affected by the tragedy.

“I wanted to do more,” Fergason said. The Grapevine’s charity bartending program came to mind.

“That a local business will let people come in and do this, it’s amazing,” she said.

A small portion of the proceeds will also go to the dog park in Newtown, where Olivia liked to spend time.

For more information about charity bartending events, go to www.tipbig.info.

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