We have taverns that support local causes but McGaffer’s is in a class by itself. It’s the small bar with the big heart. The neighborhood joint hosts fundraisers throughout the year. Their biggest event, though, is “Christmas with a Cause” which is held on the first Saturday of December. This year’s event was their most successful ever. Almost $40,000 was donated to local charities and 39 bags of toys were distributed.

The latter is a significant numbers when you consider that Pat Malone has been operating the bar for 39 years. He has an open-door policy about holding benefits and fundraisers, and he first opened his doors to “Christmas with a Cause” in 1999. The event has grown ever since, largely because of its message: Don’t just bring a toy, bring another person. 

The event originated with the Takers, a Hall of Fame softball team, and spread to the other constituents who make up McGaffer’s clientele. Union members are the backbone. This includes ironworkers, elevator repairmen, electricians and warehouse workers. McGaffer’s brings together blue-collar types with white-collar commodity traders — people who otherwise might not get the chance to give on this scale. 

These are hard-working guys who care about neighborhood causes. Many are huge sports fans, and Malone, along with Rich “Chubs” Polfus, have the connections to snag attractive raffle prizes. For example, Blackhawk legend Jeremy Roenick donates pucks and jerseys and is known to drop by for a drink. Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Lattner always donates a football. 

This year’s “Cause” was held Dec. 5 and attracted 300-plus customers and their kids, who jammed the place from noon to 2 a.m. True to his generous nature, Malone provided all the food for free. Checks and toys were collected for a wide range of charities and institutions. These included Opportunity Knocks, Shriner’s Hospital for Children, and Sarah’s Inn for Domestic Violence. Lesser-known organizations like the PMSA Key Club, Famous Fido Rescue and El Valor were recipients. Each charity was given at least $1,000.

The youth of Forest Park were, of course, big winners. Malone already provides free pizza for Little League events and they received support, along with the Forest Park Youth Soccer Association. Bags of toys were dropped off at the Community Center to be handed out to kids in the community. Malone takes personal pleasure in delivering toys and checks to the Loyola Burn Center.

All of these organizations are supported by salt-of-the-earth citizens, many of whom get matching funds from their employers. They create a festive atmosphere at the bar, where they are given commemorative T-shirts. Mr. and Mrs. Claus made an appearance along with Mayor Calderone. 

Our former scribe, Bill Dwyer, likened McGaffer’s to the cozy confines of Martini’s in It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a place where a group of average townspeople can unite to help people who are hurting. So next year, join the crowd at McGaffer’s. And don’t just bring an unwrapped toy and your checkbook. 

Bring a friend.  

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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