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The News Herald – Pineapple Willy’s beach cleanups raise $12,300 for charities so far this year. Who’s next?

by Nathan Cobb

Published: Aug 5 2022 at 7:01 PM ET EST

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Melissa Traxler, CEO of Pineapple Willy’s Restaurant, says she believes it is important for businesses to give back to their communities. 

That’s why the restaurant on Saturdays hosts its Summer Beach Cleanup program, which raises money for a different charity or nonprofit organization each week. During the cleanup, participants gather at the restaurant located off South Thomas Drive to collect trash along the coast. 

For everyone who attends, Pineapple Willey’s donates $10 to that weekend’s group. 

“It’s wonderful, and it’s what we do at Pineapple Willy’s,” Traxler said of giving back. “We want to set an example, hoping other businesses will step in and do the same thing.”

Traxler, who has worked at Pineapple Willy’s for more than two decades, said the Summer Beach Cleanup was created in 2018, one year before she became CEO. The event was not held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

More participants means more money for nonprofits

This year’s Summer Beach Cleanup began June 4 and will run through Sept. 10. Last weekend’s cleanup benefited the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, and this weekend will benefit the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida. 

Traxler noted that the 381 participants in the July 30 event set a record for the biggest turnout ever in a Pineapple Willy’s cleanup. The restaurant donated $3,810 to the Children’s Advocacy Center.

So far this year, the restaurant has donated more than $12,300 between nine organizations. Restaurant employees also have personally donated about $2,500 between the nine groups. 

Suzan Gage, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition, said Saturday will mark the third time her group was selected as a beneficiary of the Summer Beach Cleanup. 

Focused on helping grow healthy children, parents and the relationships between them, the ELC operates in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Franklin, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties. It has offices in Panama City, Marianna and Chipley. 

The group offers early morning programs for children, child care options and other programs to promote healthy development in children, primarily those who are 5 years old and younger. 

“We are so honored that (Pineapple Willy’s has) allowed us to be one of their chosen organizations,” Gage said. “There’s so many great organizations in Bay County that it could support. The fact that (Pineapple Willy’s) recognized the importance of early learning and what that (means) for our community just speaks the world of the kind of business it is.”

Gage also said she enjoys that she and her staff are able to perform a service project for the Panama City Beach area in exchange for the donation. 

“It’s not like we’re just taking or accepting,” Gage said. “We’re doing some service and receiving something in return. … It’s always nice to have some sweat equity in a program that you’re doing.”

When are the beach cleanups?

According to Traxler, participants clean the beach surrounding Pineapple Willy’s each Saturday from 8:30-9:30 a.m. All who participate get a raffle ticket which gives them a chance to win prizes, including gift cards to local restaurants, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the Grand Theatre at Pier Park.

She noted that while Pineapple Willy’s does not weigh the collected trash after each event, “a lot” was picked up last weekend.

“One of our main goals is to always give back to the community,” Traxler said. “We have the world’s most beautiful beaches, and we want to keep it that way.”

For more information on the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida, visit