By Derek Gean (Leonard Wood)December 10, 2015
A 35-year Fort Leonard Wood holiday tradition continued Tuesday, as community members gathered to celebrate "the season of giving" at the 35th annual St. Nick's Benefit Ceremony at Grant Hall Auditorium.
The benefit, sponsored by the Fort Leonard Wood Lions Club in conjunction with Army Community Service, helps provide Christmas gifts to area underprivileged children and special-needs adults. The program depends on sponsors who purchase gifts for individuals and donates money for the purchase of gifts.
This year, the benefit is providing gifts for more than 800 individuals.
"We are a little down this year, but that is probably the result of the 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade moving out," said Casey Morris, Lions Club member and event coordinator.
"We had approximately 71 sponsors -- one picked up 41 kids, one 15 and another 5," Morris said.
The ceremony gave organizers the opportunity to thank the community for their participation in the program, which serves organizations such as ACS, Head Start of Pulaski County, B.W. Robinson State School, Pulaski County Foster Care Program, Piney Ridge Center and Choices for People.
Louise Bibbs, Lions Club president, thanked everyone for taking part in the benefit.
"Thank you for coming out and helping to make children happy," she said.
Following Bibbs remarks, students from the Child Development Center's Strong Beginnings Pre-K, performed holiday music, followed by the Waynesville High School Junior ROTC Choir.
Santa, and even Mrs. Claus, made an appearance to greet all the children who participated.
Col. Andy Herbst, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander, helped close out the ceremony by thanking the community for their support.
"This is a very special event," Herbst said. "In our world today we have a lot of bad news, but its things like this that gives us some hope; hope for the future. This is going to bring a lot of smiles to a lot of Families that are not as fortunate as many of us in here today," he said.
It's those smiles that keep the benefit going strong after 35 years, Morris said.
"We want to make sure that no child goes without Christmas, if we can help it," he said.
Following the program, refreshments were served and the 399th Army Band Quintet provided background music. Gifts were then distributed to the participating organizations.