Greenwood student gives $11K in new bikes to soldiers' kids
By CLAUDETTE RILEY
Dec. 29, 2017
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — In recent years, Christmas hasn't quite felt the same for Garrett Litherland. There was something missing.
"I thought it was because I wasn't a little kid anymore," he said.
Eventually, the 16-year-old figured out that one of his favorite parts of the holiday was helping with a charity started by his father that provided new bicycles to the children of men and women serving in the military.
"It was cool," he said. "I got to go to the base and deliver the bikes. It was a lot of fun."
During its 15-year run, the charity started in the early 1990s raised enough money to give away an estimated $400,000 in custom-built bicycles to children at Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood.
The Svitak Bicycle Benefit, as it was later called, was named for Joplin native Sgt. Phil Svitak, a member of the Army Special Air Operations, the Nightstalkers. An avid cyclist, he was killed during a 2002 mission in Afghanistan.
"Christmas can be hard on some of the young enlisted families," said Dave Litherland, who started the annual effort in Columbia before relocating to Springfield. "It's a way of saying thanks to the military."
Reluctantly, the effort went on hiatus a few years ago.
"With the demands of the season and three boys involved in every event known to man, I let the charity stop four years ago," he said. "For at least the last three years, Garrett has been on my case to restart the event — finally pronouncing he would do it on his own."
Dave Litherland said he was skeptical, but his son was determined.
"I assumed he would raise a few hundred dollars and that I would be on the hook to fund a reasonable number of bikes," he said.
The Springfield News-Leader reports that The teen put together a brochure and made appointments to talk to the parents of his classmates and teammates at Greenwood Laboratory School. He also raised money on GoFundMe.com.
"There were quite a few who donated," he said. "I just told them how it felt. I told them how good it was to give back."
In all, the high school junior raised more than $7,000. With help from Springfield's A&B Cycle and the Trek Bicycle Corporation — which offered deep discounts — the restarted charity was able to collect $11,000 worth of bicycles for children.
"I'm so proud of him," Dave Litherland said. "I don't want to say I'm shocked, because I don't want to sell him short, but that's a lot of money."
Originally, the teen hoped to raise enough money to provide 30 bicycles. But, when he contacted Whiteman, he was given the names and ages of 46 children in need of bikes. About 70 percent were girls.
Dave Litherland said seeing all those names on paper was motivation for his son. "Of course, he got enough money for all the kids."
On a recent Friday, father and son rented a moving van, picked up 46 bikes assembled by A&B Cycle, and made the drive to the base.
The bicycles were delivered to a group on the base that works closely with the families. That group will distribute them to the parents so they can surprise their children with the gifts on Christmas.
Garrett Litherland said he learned a lot from raising the money, especially how much work was involved. He plans to continue the charity next year.
Asked how many bikes he wanted to deliver next year, he said: "It all depends on how many names they give me."
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com