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Pride Committee will spread holiday cheer

STEUBENVILLE — The city’s Pride Committee will be back in action Tuesday, passing out free hot dogs, chips, drinks and treats to children in the Steubenville Lights Up the Night crowd who otherwise might leave the festivities with an empty stomach.

“We want to make sure families can come down on Lights Up Night and not have to purchase anything,” 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna said. “We’ll be there to give out hot dogs, chips, drinks, cookies and Christmas spirit.”

There also will be free face painting, courtesy of Lorena Mercer.

“Last year, she sat there literally all night,” Villamagna said. “Everything was over and done and she was still painting — she wouldn’t quit until every kid in line who wanted their face painted had it painted.”

This year is the sixth year for the giveaway, and Villamagna said he’s been overwhelmed at the generosity of local merchants and individuals throughout the community. Steve’s Fish and Chips and the Spot Bar are donating the hot dogs, Downtown Bakery is donating smiley face cookies, and Chairman of the Board, a billboard company from Oakdale, Pa., owned by Linda Staffalino, is providing chips, drinks and some cookies. Laborers Local 809 of Steubenville will be passing out small footballs while supplies last.

He said a number of individuals from Mingo Junction, Steubenville and Wintersville also have volunteered baked goods and other items.

“What amazes me more than anything is, I haven’t called anyone,” Villamagna said. “They’re calling me, asking if they can help. The more the merrier, anyone who wants to help or donate is welcome to.”

He said they’ll set up at the northwest corner of the city building — Market and Third streets — and start serving around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“When this started, I noticed that there were a lot of people coming who didn’t have a lot,” Villamagna said. “I think everybody has a soft spot for children, and basically what we’re doing is geared to kids. We’re just trying to make it a little easier for people to come down and enjoy themselves. Not everyone has 20 bucks in their pocket.”

He said at one time they actually thought about calling it quits, ticking off a list of reasons why it made sense.

“It’s cold, it could rain. We have to set up a tent and propane heaters,” he said. “It’s a pain. But we’ve got to do it.”

While he admits most people don’t see him as the warm and fuzzy type, Villamagna said he’s “always had a soft spot for kids.” Especially kids whose parents might not have much in the way of material possessions.

“When you see a little kid come up there in front of you and doesn’t have a coat on and says, ‘Sir, can I have a hot dog and cookie?’ Or when you can tell they don’t have anything and the mother corrects them for grabbing a cookie instead of asking … when you see that, if it doesn’t do something to you internally, you’re not human. As tough and hard as I am, it’s hard for me to take. It warms your heart.”

While it’s geared for kids, “We won’t turn anyone away who comes over and asks for a hot dog,” he added.

“We really do get a bang out of it,” he said. “I like doing nice things for people who appreciate it.”

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