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East County Saturday, Jul. 16, 2022 3 weeks ago

Truman's Tap & Grill gives back with Christmas in July

December can be a difficult time for people to donate to charity. So one local business decided to get a jump on the holiday spirit.
by: Spencer Fordin A+E Editor

The concept came in even before they started functioning as a business. The new owners of Truman’s Tap & Grill wanted to find a way to give back to the community that supports them on a regular basis, so they committed to setting aside Mondays for philanthropy.

Justin Simms, who took over the restaurant in 2021, has chosen a variety of charities to support during his time at the helm. Truman’s has contributed to Southeast Guide Dogs, the Play for Life Foundation and Resilient Retreat, among others.

This year, they decided to take their philanthropy to another level. Truman’s Tap & Grill started a new tradition called Christmas in July, and they hope it will become an annual phenomenon that helps them to benefit local charities.

“We’re coming in and trying to change a culture and a mindset not just in house, but in the community,” Simms said. “With these local charities, that’s the light switch that turns on. You’re touching someone here.

"The impact you’re going to have on little kids and families is awesome. To know that it’s here in in our backyard — in Lakewood Ranch, in Sarasota, in Manatee County — that’s important. That’s why the word community is on the wall.”

He isn’t kidding. Community is part of a word cloud painting on the wall, and other words like Giving, Family and Sharing are also part of the restaurant’s organizing ethos.

Community, giving and sharing are just some of the important words that mean a lot to the staff at Truman's Tap & Grill. (Photo by Spencer Fordin)

Truman’s chose three charities — The Magic of Mittens, Community Shoebox Drive and Toys for Tots — to benefit this July, and they’ve pledged that they will donate 10 percent of food and non-alcoholic purchases to those organizations on Mondays this month.

The first event, on July 11, benefited The Magic of Mittens. Truman’s will donate to the Community Shoebox Drive on July 18 and Toys for Tots on July 25, and Carrie Leitzman, Simms’ mom, said that marking July for charity just seemed like a natural.

“We needed to do something that’s a little more consistent, easier for our staff and easier for the community to understand what we’re doing and join forces with us,” said Leitzman of the dedicated campaign. “So we decided Christmas in July sounded like a lot of fun.”

The allure of the Christmas in July slogan is self-evident. Leitzman said that Truman’s had a recent visitor who heard about the charity drive and immediately wanted to be involved.

“(Monday) we had a guest come in for a special that we don’t have on the menu now because we changed over to this,” she said. “We had to explain to them that we’re doing Christmas in July, and they were like, ‘We get it.’ They were coming in for something but changed gears and were excited. They took one of the menus, but I don’t know which one they donated to.”

Leitzman said that the goal is to raise $15,000 over the course of the month. She said that Toys for Tots was chosen because it was one of her father’s favorite charities, but Magic of Mittens and Community Shoebox Drive were chosen because they benefit local families.

Truman’s hopes to benefit the same charities once again in December, but they feel that lending a hand five months early makes all the difference in the world.

“We’re giving ahead of time,” Leitzman said. “It’s going to be a tough year for people to share. The unexpected thing always happens in Christmas where you have even less money.”

“We’re not in December,” Simms added. “This is money that people can donate now because they’re not worried about buying the gift for Mom or the other half or for kids. I can do $100 now, but maybe I can’t do $100 in December. We’re getting a good jump start now, and we’re already ahead for at least these three groups. That’s one less bit they have to worry about.”

The restaurant’s bar manager, Maggie Harrington, is the company’s Christmas ace in the hole.

Leitzman said that Harrington has helped to elevate the holiday spirit around Truman’s, and she’s been an integral part of both decorating the bar and also getting the customers engaged in donating.

“It connects people. Who doesn’t want to give back?” asked Harrington of having a chance to aid local charities. “Christmas is just my heart and soul. It’s family. It’s happiness. It makes me so happy that we’re able to give so many toys to unfortunate children.

“It’s something to look forward to. It’s not just coming to work.”

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