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Bob's Garage not just about the decorations

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
Spirit of Christmas volunteers prepare for the start of a fundraiser at Bob’s Garage Lounge in Blawnox on Dec. 7. From left: Heidi Corwin, Norma Marencik and Bob's Garage bartenders Melissa McKown and Geneva King.
Elaborate Christmas decorations in Bob’s Garage Lounge cover almost every inch of the walls.
Elaborate Christmas decorations in Bob’s Garage Lounge cover almost every inch of the walls.

Bob Paganico spends about $2,200 a year to transform his Blawnox eatery into a spectacle of lights and ornaments for the Spirit of Christmas, a nonprofit that raises $50,000 yearly to donate gifts to children in need.

Bob's Garage Lounge on Freeport Road has become known for its elaborate Christmas decorations — lights, garland and ornaments to attract customers and their charitable donations throughout December.

“You'd be surprised at how many grandparents and mothers and dads say, ‘This is all they have,' ” Paganico said of the gifts his team distributes on Christmas Eve.

Paganico hosts 50/50 raffles, prize giveaways and celebrity guest bartenders at the lounge during the fundraising drive. This year's bartenders include Craig Patrick, former Penguins general manager, and Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play announcer for the Steelers and University of Pittsburgh.

“We get a lot of tourists this time of year,” bartender Melissa McKown said. “Everybody is so pleasant, and they're always raving about the decorations.”

McKown, 27, of Sharpsburg said she enjoys helping with the decorations, which take two days to complete, and the fundraisers. She donates tips to the nonprofit during the fundraising events every Monday and Saturday through December.

“(At) 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 the December events, golf outings and bake sales earlier in the year, the nonprofit raises about $50,000, money that helps almost 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.”

Organizers get the names of children from community centers where parents signed up. They ask the parents what the children want.

Paganico and his team buys, wraps and delivers the gifts. They spend about $60 per child, and families receive a $50 gift certificate to Giant Eagle.

“This would not exist without my people,” he said.

Volunteer Patti Davies of O'Hara was just a regular customer at Bob's Garage until she began helping 20 years ago. Davies organizes the fundraising events and prepares the raffles and basket giveaways.

“I'm already worn out and we're only halfway through,” she said with a laugh.

Volunteer Heidi Corwin of New Kensington has helped for about five years. Corwin makes volunteering a family event with her son and daughter.

“It's a way of giving back,” she said. “It's nice for my kids to be involved.”

Paganico shares that sentiment. His kids participated in Spirit of Giving when they were young. Now his grandchildren help.

“It's a good teaching tool for them to see that they really don't have it that bad,” he said.

Emily Balser is a writer with the Point Park News Service.

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