Bay area bartender donates tips, raises money for veterans

Ian O'Connell began his mission six years ago, and has raised thousands

Good Samaritan Ian O'Connell works as a bartender at Sea Critters Café on Pass A Grille Way in St. Pete Beach.

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) – For six years, Ian O’Connell has been on a mission – a mission to raise money for veterans in need of assistance.

O’Connell works as a bartender at Sea Critters Café on Pass A Grille Way in St. Pete Beach. His cause actually started by accident when a customer asked him an odd question while he was working a double shift on Christmas.

“[He asked] what I was going to do with all the money I made,” O’Connell explained. “I had gotten BP [from the BP disaster settlement] money that year and I told him if I had to work on Christmas I was going to find a good cause.”

And that he did and he’s been doing it ever since.

“I’m an accidental fundraiser,” O’Connell says. “I didn’t know I was going to be but I like helping the veterans out. I didn’t serve [the country] and I didn’t do anything for my freedoms that I enjoy every day……this is just my way of giving back. ”

The benefactor of his generosity is Claybaker Dustoff, a non-profit organization that assists members of the military as they transition back into society.

The first year, O’Connell raised a little more than $1,000 for the group and that dollar amount has steadily since.  Last year he raised more than $11,000 which motivated him to set a goal of $15,000 this year.

Bar patrons like Leslie Brewin are more than happy to help out. She and her husband shelled out a crisp $100 bill for O’Connell’s cause.

“First of all, Ian is one of the best guys I known,” Brewin says. “He supports veterans – anything he supports, we support and why not support veterans especially when they need out help.”

Now, working a double on Christmas Day is something O’Connell looks forward to every year.

“It’s my favorite double shift of the year.  I mean, I’m not here to make any money, it’s just for the veterans today.  I would do this once a month if I could,” he said.

For more information on Claybaker Dustoff, or if you wish to make a donation click here. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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