Four people lost to cancer made Michelle Milton incredibly angry. So the Harlem bartender, who works at Neely’s Barbecue Parlor on the Upper East Side, decided to do what she could to stop the disease.
“I didn’t want to just walk,” she said. “I wanted to do some kind of sacrifice. That’s where I came up with the idea that for 30 days, I can sacrifice my salary.”
She donates all of her tips – the bulk of her income – to a charity for the month of October in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year, her fourth year doing so, it will go to Chemo Comfort, a group that makes kits for chemo patients to help manage nausea, hair loss and other side effects.
She decided to do it after her mentor died.
“I was just devastated,” she said. “You never ever saw this woman not smiling, and to know that someone like that was taken away by this disease that we absolutely can’t control, it kind of sent me over the edge, and I was angry.”
Customers chip in with extra tips after seeing signs about her planned donation in the bar.
“I’ve actually had customers from last year coming in, asking if I’m going to do it again this year,” she says. “The men are the ones who come forward with stories, because they’ve had someone affected in their lives.”
And her landlord, knowing about her tips going elsewhere, doesn’t charge Milton, 43, rent for the month. “She told me, I almost fainted,” Milton said.
This year, her goal is to collect $4,000.
And at the end of the month, she will shave her head in solidarity with chemo patients.
The first year she did it, she said, she cried.
“I had no idea how I was going to look, or what people were going to think,” she said. “I started thinking about when patients go through chemotherapy, people always look at your hair first, so I was like, that’s how they feel.”