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Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Claus on a yule mission

| Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006

Santa Claus is a role the Rev. Steve Gabor believes he was destined to play.

"This is what I should be doing all the time," Gabor said Saturday afternoon as he distributed toys, clothes and warm meals to needy children in Arnold.

Gabor and his wife, Becky, donned the red-and-white fuzzy garments of Mr. and Mrs. Claus for their annual neighborhood Christmas party.

The couple runs Lighthouse Ministries from two buildings in the 1600 block of Fifth Avenue, providing food, clothing, shelter and prayer.

Lighthouse Ministries canvassed local businesses, collecting toy and food donations from several grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and other shops. Gabor, who was a Marine in Vietnam, also obtained contributions from the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program

The room that usually serves as the food bank was filled with shelves of toys.

Janet and Garry Brown, of Arnold, brought eight-month-old Kara to sit on Santa's lap and collect a few presents. Janet Brown said her daughter cried the first time she saw someone in a Santa suit, but the little girl was calm and cheerful as she sat with Gabor.

"I guess she recognizes his voice," Janet Brown said.

She picked out two toys for her daughter, a musical rattle and an educational electronic game. Becky Gabor also picked out pale yellow clothes and a red winter coat for Kara.

Kara's parents jokingly argued over who would get to wrap the gifts for their daughter's first Christmas.

"They've helped me with a lot of things," Janet Brown said of Lighthouse Ministries. "They've helped me understand God."

"This is a caring place," Garry Brown said.

Steve Gabor left periodically to scour the streets for children to invite to the party, which was from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Gabor again will slip into his Santa suit on Christmas Eve to deliver leftover toys to homes in New Kensington and Arnold.

They took advantage of the warm weather Saturday to have the party outdoors in the empty lot where their previous church office was located until it burned to the ground in a major fire in June 2005.

The Gabors initially didn't know how they would continue their ministry, but donations and volunteers helped them expand into a neighboring building. Now they are hoping to start a transitional shelter for people looking to get off the streets.

Becky Gabor told several stories of crime occurring on and near their property.

"We've had shootings right over there," she said, pointing to the corner of 16th Street with the alley that runs between Fourth and Fifth avenues. "We've had carjackings, people running by with guns."

It is the children whose parents are addicted to drugs or living on the street that the Gabors most worry about.

"People who spend all their money on drugs don't have anything left over for Christmas," Becky Gabor said.

Rather than scare them away, the proximity to crime only intensifies the Gabors' desire to expand their oasis of solitude.

"We know this is where we are needed," Becky Gabor said. "We'll see a change, one building at a time."

The Gabors began Lighthouse Ministries about six years ago, not long after they married. They credit their success to the steady flow of volunteers, many of whom have followed the Gabors out of hopeless situations.

"Steve was a drunk. I was a drug addict," Becky Gabor said. "I was homeless. I was addicted to crack. I lost everything.

"It took the Lord coming into my life," she said of her turnaround. "There is hope."

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