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"Drag with a purpose": Grand Rapids restaurant raises thousands for local charities, non-profits

"You put a boy in a dress, and we're going to figure out how to raise money," said Chanel Hunter, owner of Hamburger Mary's Grand Rapids location.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Grand Rapids restaurant is giving back to the community in a big way, and they're doing it with high heels and wigs.

Hamburger Mary's on 28th Street specializes in drag performing, and now they're using their platform to donate thousands of dollars to local charities and non-profits.

"You put a boy in a dress, and we're going to figure out how to raise money," said Chanel Hunter, owner of Hamburger Mary's Grand Rapids location.

And raising money is exactly what happens at this restaurant and show venue, but here, they give it back to the community.

At the end of every show, the drag queens collect money from the audience. All of those donations from the entire month go to a local charity or non-profit. 

Last month, for the month of March, Hamburger Mary's gave more than $11,000 to New Destiny Pathways, which helps young women in the Grand Rapids area who are transitioning out of foster care. 

"We have a good time with what we do," Chanel Hunter said. "But we also know over the years of doing drag, how impactful we can be to the community that we do business in."

In February, the restaurant donated almost $7,000 to the "As You Are" Youth Collective, which helps young people in the area who are facing homelessness or instability. 

Fast forward to April, where this month, Hamburger Mary's has already raised nearly $14,000 for C-SNIP, a group that offers reduced-cost veterinary services to cats and dogs around West Michigan. 

Chanel Hunter is not only a business owner, but she's also a drag queen. She said giving back to the community makes performing that much more special. 

"It makes all of us feel so good to know that we are doing drag with a purpose right now," Hunter said. 

On Thursday night, Hamburger Mary's had an even greater purpose. They donated the night's earnings to the family of C-SNIP's Marketing/Development Director Annie Vangeest, who had unexpectedly passed away earlier in the week.

Rodger Giessman, also known as DJ Lipgloss, is Hamburger Mary's Entertainment Manager. He's also an entertainer for the shows, running the music and interacting with the crowd six days a week.

Giessman said seeing how much the drag shows give back, even if everyone in the community might not agree with how they raise the money. 

"If we're both fighting for a cause and we're both trying to give back to the same thing, that's all I care about at the end of the day," Giessman said. "Our differences make us who we are. That doesn't make us friends, that doesn't make us enemies, it just makes us who we are as people." 

But Giessman also said he wants people to realize how positive the art of drag can be.

"It's something that just fills you with joy and so much excitement," he said, "and you can come and just let loose."

And along with giving back to the community, that's what Hamburger Mary's is all about; letting loose and having a great time.

"Every single person that walks through the doors here is accepted," Rodger Giessman said.

"Spread the word, spread love," said Chanel Hunter, "We'll see you here!"

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