‘Gotta think about the kids’

Published 10:12 am Friday, November 28, 2008

“Gotta think about the kids,” Connie Smith says candidly about her push to encourage customers to donate. “I’ve got a soft heart for kids.”

The grandmother of five is just one of many who have been pouring out their compassion and their pocketbooks for others in need this season.

Smith is a bartender at Margaritaville, one of six local bars the Austin Jaycees have asked to jump on board for their annual Christmas for Kids project.

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The Parenting Resource Center fundraiser aims to buy gifts for children this holiday. Wish lists are collected from needy children, and area organizations and businesses purchase the gifts.

For a $1 donation — or more, in some cases — bar patrons write their names on signs, which are hung up at the establishments, similar to donations at supermarket check-outs. All proceeds benefit Christmas for Kids.

At Margaritaville, $270 was raised in one week, with two patrons, Brian Richardson and a man who simply wrote “Tony,” competing for the highest contribution.

“Brian raised it Saturday, and Tony came in yesterday and said, ‘I can’t have that,’” Smith said on Tuesday. Brian had donated $20 and Tony gave $21.

The men did not know each other.

“They donate what they can afford,” Smith said of her customers, whom she solicits for donations.

Austin Jaycees President Danielle Nesvold said this is the first year the chapter has used this method of fundraising for the project, and it has raised far more than they expected, with more than half of their goal collected in one week.

“It’s obviously been a big success thanks to Connie,” Nesvold said.

The Jaycees plan to raise at least $1,000 for Christmas for Kids, and “adopt” 10 or more children for the project.

“Our events revolve around children, and with needs increasing, we thought the need was there,” Nesvold said.

The Christmas for Kids signs will be available at Fresco Joe’s, Torge’s Live, Lefty’s Bar, Charley’s Lounge and Hiawatha Bar until Dec. 10.