Adams businessman's spirit leads team that spreads holiday cheer
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At first glance, Dennis Crawford doesn't appear to have much in common with Santa Claus.
Whereas Mr. Claus is known to wear a bright red suit and deliver gifts from a reindeer-powered sleigh, Mr. Crawford prefers more subdued clothing and crams Christmas presents into his Chevy Avalanche truck.
- AGE: 62
- HOMETOWN: Adams
- EMPLOYMENT: President and chief operating officer of All-Pak Inc., a container manufacturer and distributor based in Bridgeville
- EDUCATION: Bachelor of arts in liberal arts from Edinboro University
- ACTIVITIES: Past district governor of Rotary District 7300, which includes Allegheny, Beaver and parts of Westmoreland counties; past president of McCandless Rotary; member of business-related professional organizations
- INTERESTS: Traveling; scuba diving; and collecting antique cars, including a 1947 Studebaker, 1964 Corvette and 1960 Cadillac
- FAMILY: Wife, Kathy; daughter, Kelly Riddle; son, Todd; and three grandchildren
Then there's the matter of Santa's helpers. Mr. Claus may have a staff of hundreds of diminutive gift makers, but Mr. Crawford relies on an office of about 90 do-good workers to fulfill the holiday wishes of those who are less fortunate.
As he has for many years, Mr. Crawford, 62, of Adams, played the role of the famous North Pole resident this year by dropping off dozens of gifts at HEARTH, a North Hills nonprofit that helps provide housing, educational opportunities and support to homeless individuals and families.
His gifts included video games for children, new clothing for adults and more.
Barb Smith, a community volunteer and HEARTH board member, said the organization relies on people like Mr. Crawford, who are willing to organize the collection and delivery of items to those living at HEARTH's apartment complex in Ross, called Benedictine Place.
"We appreciate Mr. Crawford's efforts because he acts as an ambassador for HEARTH, sharing our mission with his employees and encouraging them to help others," Mrs. Smith said. "Many people don't realize that we have homeless families struggling in our community ... Because of volunteers like Dennis our families [were] able have gifts under the Christmas tree to enjoy Christmas."
Shortly after Thanksgiving, a Christmas tree was set up at All-Pak Inc. in Bridgeville, where Mr. Crawford is co-owner. The tree was decorated with the wish lists of about 50 families served by HEARTH, which stands for Homelessness Ends with Advocacy, Resources, Training and Housing.
In no time, the gifts started piling up, he said.
"We have a lot of great people and everybody jumps in and wants to take part," said Mr. Crawford. "Every year it's 'When are we putting up the tree?' Everyone looks forward to helping."
Mr. Crawford started putting up the tree for two reasons: He is a member of the McCandless Rotary, which collects holiday presents each year for Benedictine Place, and one of his family members benefited from Benedictine Place after she left her husband.
"Benedictine Place helped her get back on her feet and the people at HEARTH were very supportive," Mr. Crawford said.
"It's a safe place and the women living there feel safe," he said. "If it weren't for HEARTH, a lot of the women would fall through the cracks."
Judith Eakin, HEARTH executive director, said Mr. Crawford also is known in the northern suburbs for other volunteer and charitable work.
He has spent weekend afternoons cleaning up yards for elderly people or helping with the construction of the Millvale office of North Hills Community Outreach. He also has traveled to Africa with his wife, Kathy, to administer oral polio vaccines as part of the Rotary's mission to eradicate the disease, Ms. Eakin said.
Mr. Crawford said he believes it is only right that he give back in anyway he can.
"My wife and I are both Pittsburghers, raised on Mount Washington, and we literally started with nothing and have been very fortunate," he said. "I think it's our obligation to give back and I think what you give, you get back tenfold."
First Published December 28, 2008 12:00 am