Starr restaurant tippers dig deep for Philly schools

Three months ago, Stephen Starr gave patrons at 21 of his Philadelphia eateries the option of adding something extra to their bills to support one high school and two elementaries.

Those tips amounted to more than $100,000.

Tuesday, students and principals who will benefit from the public's largesse gathered at Jones, one of Starr's Center City restaurants, to thank him and his team for exceeding the campaign's goal and helping the schools afford multimedia labs, playground programs and summer internships.

Starr himself gave a separate donation of $25,000 to seed the fund-raising effort, named "Support Our Schools."

At the Tuesday celebration, yellow placards advertising the fund-raiser dotted every table. About 20 people sported pins that read "Fork up a buck" - a nod to the restaurateur's crowdsourcing strategy.

"I'm glad to hear Jones had some of the campaign's highest participation," said Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite, who had announced the campaign in March with Starr at Parc Brasserie. "I'd like to think my wife and I helped contribute to that."

Hite introduced three S. Weir Mitchell Elementary School sixth graders and their principal, Cheryl Hackett. Two of the blue uniform-clad students held up a glitter and Sharpie marker "thank you" poster speckled with signatures, while another presented a construction paper card bound with red ribbons.

Mitchell Elementary received $25,000 to support Playworks, a program that dispatches coaches to organize recess and after-school activities, while keeping playgrounds safe.

"This is going to impact our climate in a tremendous way," Hackett said. She said she hopes the Playworks coaches will improve the behavior of fifth and sixth graders, making them role models for younger students.

Next, two Henry C. Lea Elementary School students thanked Starr for funding their soon-to-be-refurbished technology lab.

"Unfortunately, not all households have computers," said eighth grader Brianna Webb, who later added that though she has a computer at home, her school does not have enough to support student demand.

Seven Strawberry Mansion students will receive paid, six-week internships coordinated by WorkReady Philadelphia. The program, open to all students at the North Philadelphia school, could place them at firms ranging from small businesses to large corporations following an extensive interview process.

At a fund-raising event on June 4 and 5, the restaurant raised $1,641 on top of its goal and collected school supplies, said Randi Sirkin, Director of Creative Services at Starr.

"We couldn't have done this without all of the people who dined out and" - she pointed to her pin - "forked up a buck."