By Derek Gean (Leonard Wood)December 13, 2017
More than 800 area children and special-needs adults will have a brighter holiday season thanks to the efforts of 106 St. Nick's Benefit sponsors.
Community members gathered at Grant Hall auditorium to celebrate the "season of giving" at a ceremony Tuesday marking the conclusion of the program that provides community members with the opportunity to purchase Christmas gifts for area families.
"For the last 17 years, the Fort Leonard Wood Lions Club has sponsored the event to help children from Army Community Service, foster care of Pulaski County, MOCA Head Start of St. Robert, B.W. Robinson State School for the Handicapped and Piney Ridge Center," said Bruce Simpson, narrator and Lion's Club treasurer.
The atrium of Grant Hall was filled with thousands of Christmas gifts awaiting distribution following the ceremony, which featured holiday performances from the children of the Strong Beginnings Pre-K from the Child Development Center, the Waynesville High School JROTC choir and the 399th Army Band Quintet.
Col. Tracy Lanier, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander, thanked the benefit sponsors on behalf of the installation.
"One person can make a difference and everybody sitting in this room made that difference for their community," Lanier said.
"Our goal was 800 children," Lanier said. "Guess what? We exceeded that."
Harold Burleson, Lions Club president, said a lot of work goes into making the St. Nick's Benefit a reality for the Fort Leonard Wood Community. He thanked the audience for their help and encouraged them to promote the program in the future.
"You are here today to become a mouthpiece for our St. Nick's Benefit coming up in 2018," he said.
This is the 37th year for the program, which started in 1981 as a "coffee" initiated by the Staff Judge Advocate and his wife to help needy children. The event has grown over the years, with the Fort Leonard Wood's Lion's Club taking the lead in 2001.