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.

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