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By MORRIS FRASER North West Florida Daily News Contributing Writer
If Emil Pagliari hadn't wanted his usual bag of popcorn, Todd Gatlin might not have a new bank of computers to teach kids at the Eleanor M. Johnson Youth Center. It's a lesson in linear charity.
Pagliari, who runs The Original Waterfront Crabshack on Miracle Strip Parkway and is an inveterate community activist, regularly drops in at First City Bank, where a machine dispenses bags of popcorn.
Last fall, he entered the lobby-- no popcorn.
"Where's the popcorn machine?" Pagliari lamented.
A bank employee told him the machine had been moved to another branch. Pagliari offered a spare tabletop machine from his restaurant if it would remain in that lobby so Pagliari could have his popcorn. A deal was struck.
When Pagliari delivered his machine the next day, the employee asked if he knew anyone who needed old computers. Matter of fact, Pagliari did.
Pagliari had just heard former U.S. Sen. Jeremiah Denton of Alabama tell the Rotary Club of Fort Walton Beach about Denton's National Forum Foundation. The NFF operates a program called TRANSFORM-- Transportation for the Relief of Mankind. It arranges for global transportation so American donor groups can deliver goods to their ultimate destinations.
The bank was upgrading its computer system and had all these relatively small computers, complete with monitors, keyboards, modems and Ethernet connections. About 60 of them.
Pagliari jumped at the offer, knowing they would be delivered rapidly to their destination. He collared four of his friends to load their pickups, making four loads each. And he induced Ken Reeves of Storage Technology Systems to house them in his warehouse until distribution. Reeves went over the computers, cleaning off the drives of unnecessary programs and making sure everything worked.
Terrell Kelley, president of System Technologies, learned of the donations. Kelley is on the board at the Eleanor Johnson Youth Center and told Pagliari the center could use some of those computers. Why not? said Pagliari.
And that's why Gatlin is going to get about 10 machines. Pagliari and the Rotary Club will see that the remaining 60 are sent overseas.
Pagliari had his own pickup filled with parts and packing material for the final load. He opened the driver's door to show a cab filled with more stuff, closing him in like the cockpit of the P-3 he flew as a Navy pilot until a few years ago.
At the end of the transactions, it's a bunch of kids from 6 to their teens who will use the computers for education and Internet access, as well as adults who can take computer-training classes to re-enter the workforce.
Gatlin, the center's executive director, was a football star at Choctawhatchee High School and University of Florida. He had brief stints with the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders, but played most regularly in Europe with the World Football League.
He returned to Gainesville to complete his degree work and wound up at the Johnson center.
"Not a lot of people know about us. We are quietly doing a good work," the soft-spoken Gatlin says. "These computers will be a good educational tool for the kids, and for the adults."
Meanwhile, Pagliari is getting used to retirement-- which in his case means staying active-- after stints in the Army and Air Force and a longer career in the Navy.
He'll haul out one of his accordions, with or without being asked, and give an impromptu concert. And he can talk his way into anything.
"My son, who is stationed on the Harry S. Truman, asked me to come up to New York for New Year's and said we'd go skiing," Pagliari said. "I drove to New York and we went to see the (New Year's Eve) ball drop in Times Square.
"You ever been there? That ball is so small and there were a hundred thousand people there. Lots of security. We had to go through three security points. I talked with the firemen and the police at the third one, told them I was a retired Navy commander, and they put us right up front."
So collecting old computers for reuse is an easy job for the jovial man who calls himself "Mediterranean Irish."
Pagliari-- popcorn-- Rotary Club-- youth center-- kids learning. A chain of activism and activity that binds parts of the community into a workable whole.