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St. Peters citizen awarded for helping ‘forgotten families’

Peggy Gianino [center] with Ward 3 aldermen Terri Violet and Melissa Reimer.

The St. Peters Board of Aldermen set aside time at their Jan. 23 meeting to award Ward 3 resident Peggy Gianino with an Outstanding Citizenship Award.

The award was bestowed upon Gianino for her “efforts to help raise funds for families in need in our community.”

Alderman Nick Trupiano [Ward 4], who has known Gianino and her family for over 50 years, described Gianino as a “go-getter.”

“She volunteered, even at a young age,” Trupiano said.

At the meeting, multiple aldermen spoke of Gianino’s charity work, including an annual event for children and families called Bowling With Santa.

The effort began 12 years ago when Gianino and two friends had the idea for a toy drive in 2007. In 2014, the Bowling With Santa name became official. Today, the community organization of the same name collects toys and gifts for children and families to enjoy during the holiday season solely through word of mouth.

“Somebody knows every family,” Gianino said. “A lot of the people we help are what I call “hard-working, low income” people.”

This past Christmas, Gianino and a team of about 20 dedicated volunteers provided 215 children with gifts and warm clothing items while also providing families an evening of fun at the Frontier Bowl bowling alley in O’Fallon. According to Gianino, an estimated 400 families attended the two-hour event. “I think the first year, we helped something like 50 kids,” Gianino said. “It just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year.”

Alderman Terry Violet [Ward 3] also spoke highly of Gianino’s community involvement in the face of hardship at the Jan. 23 meeting.

“Even when things have been tough for Peggy, she was still there trying to do something for the community,” Violet said.

Those tough times included Gianino surviving and rebuilding her life after a house fire back in 2005.

“I made it out, and after that, I decided I needed to start giving back to the community,” Gianino said.

One cause that caught Gianino’s attention immediately was raising money for a headstone for two young boys, ages 2 and 3, who had drowned in a swimming pool at their babysitter’s residence in Warren County in 2007.

“I met the mother, and she said, ‘It’s just hard to go to a cemetery, and every time you come, you put flowers in a different place because you don’t know where you’re kids are buried,’” Gianino said.

Gianino also lent her assistance to Pink Heals Tour to raise cancer awareness and Angel Moms Over STL in acquiring their Children’s Memorial Garden at Heartland Park in Wentzville.

Bowling With Santa has also worked with entities like Air Evac Lifeteam out of O’Fallon and Responder Rescue, a St. Charles charity that provides emotional and monetary support to first responders who have suffered an injury. Bowling With Santa’s reach has extended to communities outside St. Charles County. For the past three years, the program has collaborated with the Pike County Sherriff’s Office to deliver toys and clothing to families in need in Bowling Green, Missouri.

“We send them truckloads of toys,” Gianino said.

Bowling With Santa has also provided assistance on a more individual level. Gianino specifically recalls helping a local mom who made $24 too much to qualify for daycare assistance.

“These families, they’re working, they’re trying, and they need help,” Gianino said. “I call them the forgotten families. They’re the ones that cannot quality. They’re told that, if they work less, then they’ll receive help. I’ve been that forgotten family.”

One area of demand Gianino has also seen a rise in over the years is assistance for grandparents who acquire custody of their grandchildren.

“These are the type of families we adopt,” Gianino said. “You wouldn’t believe the increase of families where grandparents, because of death or incarceration [of the parents], are getting custody of grandchildren, and they’re on a fixed income. There’s a great demand.”

That rising demand is why, this year, Bowling With Santa is also hosting its first annual an Easter Egg Hunt on March 28 at Frontier Bowl in O’Fallon. According to Gianino, the hunt will feature over 10,000 eggs and include special appearances by the Easter Bunny, the Gateway Superfriends, Tinkerbell the Dinosaur and more.

Of course, Gianino will also be in attendance.

“Every year, I probably have seven, eight, nine, 10 families that approach me and ask, ‘Are you Peggy?’” Gianino said. “Because I could be a clown, I could be a zombie, I could be an elf. Whatever my heart desires. I have too much fun.”

More information is available by visiting Bowling With Santa’s page on Facebook.

“I don’t even think about it,” Gianino said. “If someone says they need help, okay. ‘What do you need?’”

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