Representatives from numerous organizations around Fort Leonard Wood gathered at Army Community Service Monday with one purpose — to assemble 70 bicycles to be distributed through the St. Nick’s Benefit Dec. 12.
The unassembled bikes were delivered to the installation from Joplin, Missouri, by Richard and Roseann Svitak, Gold Star parents of Sgt. Philip Svitak, a Joplin native, who was killed in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002. Each year, Svitak’s parents raise money through the Philip J. Svitak Memorial Foundation to purchase the bicycles and deliver them to Fort Leonard Wood. This is the 16th year area children have benefited from the donation.
Richard Svitak said the reason they do this every year is to help keep their son’s memory alive.
“We miss him dearly. Life is not the same without him,” Svitak said.
As a Gold Star Family, the Svitaks work each year with ACS’s Survivor Outreach Services coordinator, Jody Carmack, to organize the assembly party. Carmack said teams from the Casualty Assistance Center, Engineer Support Battalion, Better Opportunities for Single Service Members, 169th Engineer Battalion, the Tank-automotive and Armament Command and SOS volunteers, among others contributed to the effort.
The St. Nick’s Benefit is a program that provides community members with the opportunity to purchase Christmas gifts for disadvantaged children and young adults with disabilities. Community members sponsor children and purchase gifts for them ranging in price from $40 to $70 or they donate to the benefit. The bicycles are distributed to children who have a bike on their wish list.
Casey Morris, of the Fort Leonard Wood Lions Club, the organization that sponsors the St. Nick’s Benefit, said the Svitak’s annual donation has been important to the benefit over the years and organizers are grateful.
"We don’t have to go out and purchase the bicycles for the children who request them,” Morris said. “It has been helpful; any toy donation is helpful.”
Svitak said through sharing the bicycles, people will remember his son and all the other fallen heroes.
“We don’t forget our dead. No matter what, we don’t want to forget them. I will never forget him. He was a good man,” Svitak said.
For more information on the St. Nick’s Benefit or to sponsor a child, contact Morris at 573.765.5423 or 573.528.6313.