NEW PORT RICHEY — Small businesses are a staple in Christmas shopping for everything from jewelry to toys. Local Pasco businesses were center stage at a local holiday charity expo.

Winter Fest 2018-Annual Toys for Tots Christmas Charity Expo was held, Dec. 8, at Event Center Pasco, 8718 Trouble Creek Road.

Sixty-three businesses and organizations set up shop to showcase their products and services.

This is the eighth year that the event has been held and the average attendance is about 2,000.

Jeff DeLigio, the regional manager of the event center, wanted to combine local business support with the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program.

He wanted people to have a place to come and support local business owners.

“It’s given us a way to give back and then it also opens up the doors for people to have an opportunity to do the same,” DeLigio said. “This is definitely a community outreach type situation.”

The event is held in conjunction with the Verizon Wireless store at the front of the building.

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Santa Claus made a trip from the North Pole to visit the Winter Fest 2018-Annual Toys for Tots Christmas Charity Expo.

Everyone who attended brought a donation for Toys for Tots received an entry for door prizes.

“We give everyone encouragement to bring toys,” DeLigio said.

Paul Friedlander, account executive with Total Title Solutions, has emceed this event for the last four years. He has known DeLigio for a while and wanted to support local business owners and how they represent Pasco.

“Jeff’s been a good friend for a long time and these programs have been wonderful,” Friedlander said. “They pull the community in. And when you’re talking about community, you’re talking about small business.”

This offers the small businesses an affordable way to get their name out there in the community, Friedlander said.

He also wanted to push the idea of businesses networking in person with potential customers.

“In any business, the most important thing is face value. It’s nice that you get your name out there, but it’s about getting your face out there with the name,” said Friedlander.

Nay Harris is a presenter for Younique, an all-natural, cruelty-free skincare and makeup company. She believes that small businesses allow people to feel confident in where their money is going to.

Harris said, “It helps individuals instead of big corporations. I think it’s important to help individual families and you know who you’re actually benefitting.”

Joan Lopez, a youth pastor at Good Servant of God Church, in Lutz, creates handmade jewelry and flower baskets to raise money for the church. She set up a table at the expo so she could make a face-to-face connection with people.

“Here you’re going to be able to reach out to the community, you get to talk about your faith, you get to talk about what you do,” Lopez said. “You get to know the people; the people get to know you. It’s an interaction.”

The businesses that took part included Scentsy, Pampered Chef, LuLaRoe, Color Street, Usborne Books and More, Cruise Planners, Paparazzi, Sam’s Club, Kitty’s Crafts, Blankets by Sheila, Pasco Signs and Trikaroo.

There were also face and body art, pictures with Santa, and holiday-themed games for children.

The event center holds three to four seasonal events each year. For more information, visit eventcenterpasco.com.