Santa's Helpers Get Help From Wildwood College Professor
A nice-sized financial donation to ensure holiday gifts are secured for disadvantaged children was made possible by this Wildwood college instructor who personally knows the importance of holiday gifts to children.
Rita Swiener, a St. Louis Community College-Wildwood professor, was awarded the 2012 Community Service Award sponsored by Commerce Bank at a luncheon held Nov. 30 in St. Louis. A grant totaling $6,500, funded by the William T. Kemper and Commerce Bancshares foundations, was given in Swiener's name to Santa’s Helpers, Inc.
Santa’s Helpers provides toys, books and clothing to families throughout the St. Louis metro area, according to a news release about Swiener's recognition. With referrals from local schools and social service agencies, the organization’s goal is to ensure no child in the area is without gifts, regardless of their religious background.
Santa’s Helpers is operated by a crew of dedicated volunteers, who collect, purchase and gift wrap thousands of presents to make the holidays brighter.
Swiener is the faculty sponsor for student volunteer activities at the St. Louis Community College-Wildwood.
“Rita’s dedication to the community makes her an ideal choice for the community service award. She exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism in our community,” stated Jack Schreiber, president and chief operating officer of Commerce Bank, in the release.
Born in Pittsburgh, PA, Swiener was placed in a Jewish orphanage after the death of her mother. She said she remembers celebrating Hanukkah at the orphanage, and being given the opportunity to choose one gift from a list. She told Commerce Bank representatives it was at a very young age she made a promise to herself – when grown, she would be certain that no child would have only one holiday gift. A year after the pledge, Swiener and her brother were adopted by a St. Louis couple, and were raised in University City.
When attending night classes at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Swiener became involved with the Evening College Council that collaborated to assist a needy family for Christmas. Eventually, the project to help one family transformed into a mission for her, she said.
She founded Santa’s Helpers, Inc., in 1968, and continues to serve as the volunteer executive director to be certain the holidays are happy for children in need.
About the 2012 Community Service Award:
The Commerce Bank Community Service Award is dedicated to recognizing individuals who make an exceptional contribution to their community and the people who live there. A special grant, given in the name of the honoree, is awarded to the nonprofit agency of the honoree’s choice. Potential award recipients are identified through a thoughtful consultation process with groups that include community and civic leaders. Commerce Bank officers and advisory board members then select the Community Service Award recipient.