By Emily Balser, Point Park News Service:
Bob Paganico spends about $1,200 a year in new Christmas lights to decorate the bar and restaurant he owns. He spends an additional $1,000 in new Christmas ornaments. He also spends around $50,000 a year to help kids in need.
Paganico is the owner of Bob’s Garage Lounge, at 1372 Freeport Rd. in Blawnox, a local tourist attraction known for its outrageous Christmas decorations that hang from every window, wall and ceiling. But he also runs the nonprofit organization Spirit of Christmas, which helps local kids and their families during the holidays.
“You’d be surprised at how many grandparents and mothers and dads say, This is all they have,” Paganico said, referring to the presents he and his team give out on Christmas Eve.
Paganico uses Bob’s Garage for fundraising during the month of December by inviting local celebrities to guest bartend. This year’s guest bartenders include local celebrities Craig Patrick, former general manager for the Penguins, and Bill Hillgrove, announcer for the Steelers and University of Pittsburgh. Events also include 50/50 raffles and giveaways.
The decorations cover virtually every inch of the place in lights, garland and ornaments and help draw customers from near and far throughout the month, which helps with the fundraising efforts.
“We get a lot of tourists this time of year,” said Melissa McKown, bartender at Bob’s Garage. “Everybody is so pleasant and they’re always raving about the decorations.”
McKown, 27, of Sharpsburg, said she enjoys getting to be part of not only the decorating, which takes two full days to complete, but also taking part in the Spirit of Christmas events. She said she donates all of her tips to Spirit of Christmas during the fundraising events held every Monday and Saturday through December.
“During this time of year it’s absolutely crazy,” she said. “Night time, it’s through the roof. I can barely see the windows. (There are) lines and lines of people.”
Paganico said with all the fundraising efforts combined, including not only the December events, but also golf outings and bake sales held throughout the year, the nonprofit raises around $50,000 annually. That money goes to help close to 500 children and their families each Christmas.
“No one makes one penny,” he said. “One hundred percent of what’s raised goes to the kids.”
What makes Spirit of Christmas stand out is that the organizers not only buy presents for kids, they are able to get the names of children from local community centers where the parents have signed up. Then they call and ask the parents what specifically the children want for Christmas.
Paganico and his team go out and buy what each child has asked for, wrap it up and deliver it on Christmas Eve. He said they are able to spend about $60 on each child. Each family also receives a $50 gift certificate to Giant Eagle to help buy groceries during the holidays.
Paganico is quick to make sure his team, which is made up of all volunteers, receives credit for their work.
“This would not exist without my people,” he said. “It’s more important that they get the recognition.”
One of those volunteers, and the one who organizes most of the Spirit of Christmas events, is Patti Davies. She was just a regular customer at Bob’s Garage until one day 20 years ago and she hasn’t stopped volunteering since.
“It had been going on for some time at that point in time and one of the people who worked on it asked if I’d help them with some tickets, and I did and now I pretty much do everything,” she said. “I do have two girls that help me out.”
Davies, of O’Hara Township, is in charge of organizing all of the fundraising events and getting the raffles and basket giveaways ready for each event. She said she “makes sure everyone is going where they’re supposed to.” While she enjoys what she does, she said the month is very busy.
“I’m already worn out and we’re only half way through,” she laughed.
Another volunteer, Heidi Corwin, of New Kensington, has been helping out with Spirit of Christmas for about five years. Corwin, who is another regular customer of Bob’s Garage, makes participating in Spirit of Christmas a family event with her son and daughter.
“It’s a way of giving back,” she said of why she participates. “It’s nice for my kids to be involved.”
For Corwin, Spirit of Christmas isn’t just something to focus on in December. She said that half of her attic is dedicated to supplies for Spirit of Christmas events including supplies for the many gift baskets they put together each year for drawings. She also said it’s not unusual for supplies to be scat
tered across her house as she collects them throughout the year.
Paganico shares the same sentiment of getting the whole family involved with the process. He had his kids participate with Spirit of Giving when they were young and he now has his grandchildren participate as well.
“I think it’s a good teaching tool for them to see that they really don’t have it that bad,” he said.
While Paganico gives all of the credit to his many volunteers that help make Spirit of Giving possible, the same recognition is given back to him.
“He’s the most generous man you’ll ever meet,” McKown said. “He doesn’t like to get recognition for the Spirit of Christmas, but he started it all. He does everything in his power to help the kids.”