Off-duty Sweetwater police officers are serving customers at the Texas Roadhouse on Flagler Street Tuesday evening from 4-10 p.m. as part of the department’s second annual “Tip-A-Cop” fundraiser.
The event is part of Sweetwater Police Department’s “community oriented policing” initiative, said Manuel Saavedra, a neighborhood resource officer. Officers are paired with servers, he said, and tips received by cops go to Sunrise Community.
The organization provides assistance to people with intellectual and physical disabilities and is one of the largest private non-profits in the country, said Margaret Feldman, Sunrise Community’s vice president of development. It operates in seven states: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia and Connecticut.
Following the non-fatal shooting of Charles Kinsey – the caretaker of an autistic man – by a North Miami police officer last year, some law enforcement members felt there was a perception that cops didn’t care about disabled people, Saavedra said. Partnering with Sunrise Community is a way to counter that false notion, he said.
Money collected at the fundraiser, Feldman said, will help people who can’t afford the day programs offered by the center, buy supplies for the art program and improve the facilities in its residential units.
“We provide [these] homes throughout Miami for people with disabilities where we have our staff support and assist the people that we serve on a 24-hour basis,” she said.
At the restaurant, located at 9161 W. Flagler St., guests can expect to see “cool” cars, motorcycles, an airboat as well as the restaurant’s mascot, “Andy the Armadillo,” said local Texas Roadhouse spokeswoman Betsy Lewis.
Texas Roadhouse was recently named Partner of the Year by Miami-Dade County Public Schools because of its involvement in the community, Lewis said. It seemed natural, she said, to reach out to the Sweetwater Police Department after managers discovered it is currently National Police Week.
“We asked the police, ‘It’s your week. We’re honoring you, so what would you like to do?’” Lewis said. “So, they chose a charity of their choice.”
Last year, the department chose “Live Like Bella,” a non-profit that supports the fight against childhood cancer, and was able to raise about $6,000 in tips alone, according to Lewis and Saavedra.
In addition to the tips, YUMI’s ice cream truck will be donating 15 percent of its proceeds and Texas Roadhouse will also be donating 10 percent of its gross income for the evening, Lewis said.
“Right before they leave, there will be a big box in the front and they drop their receipt there,” Lewis said. “At the end of the night, we tally off all the receipts and we give 10 percent back to the organization.”
Other participants included: Agency for Persons with Disabilities; Cartel Baggers, a motorcycle apparel store and club; and Muscle Stangs of Miami, a Mustang club.
Participation is voluntary, said Saavedra, and is open to all officers, not just members of the Sweetwater Police Department.
“We’re all brothers, just different jurisdictions,” he said. “We might wear a different uniform but in the same token. We’re here to serve and protect…We’re all family.”