The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 11, 2012

For birthday, girl receives gifts for service members

Frank Sojak

JOHNSTOWN — Anna Burke knows how much our servicemen and women mean to this country.

So when she turned 8 years old on Oct. 10, she asked the three dozen friends and relatives attending her birthday party to think of the troops defending our country.

She asked the partygoers to buy items the troops could use instead of buying her gifts.

Anna, a second-grader at Richland Elementary School, chose to send the items to her uncle, Air Force Capt. Chad Gontkovic of Johnstown, a navigator with the 911th Airlift Wing from Pittsburgh, and the remainder of his squadron.

The squadron is supporting operations in the Middle East.

“Instead of asking for presents, I wanted to do that so that he would be reminded of home,” Anna said about why she chose to help her uncle.

“I got so much stuff it could not all fit in the boxes, so I shared it (with the others in the squadron).”

Anna said one of the things she made sure her uncle received was hot sauce, a favorite of his.

Other items that Anna collected for the troops included candy, personal hygiene items and gift cards that they could use to order merchandise over the Internet.

Anna said she and her friends also made cards to send to the troops. They also took photographs of themselves and sent the images to the troops.

“It’s to thank them for protecting us,” she said about the care packages.

Anna, daughter of Dick and Amy Burke of Richland Township, said she is appreciative of all of her friends and relatives for donating so many gifts.

For Anna’s thoughtfulness, she is the Person of the Week.

Amy Burke said Gontkovic called to say they had received the care packages and thanked Anna for the project.

“They loved all the candy,” she said. “They all loved the handmade cards that Anna and the others made.

“He said they all miss us and are looking forward to their return home.”

Amy Burke said Gontkovic will be returning at the end of January.

“(Anna’s) a kindhearted girl,” she said. “This isn’t the first time she has done this.”

In the past, Anna, has asked people to donate items for Goodwill, The Salvation Army and other charities instead of buying her gifts. Anna’s sister, Sophia, 5, also does the same thing for her birthdays.

Jill Skowron-Gontkovic, wife of Capt. Gontkovic, said she was moved by the thoughtfulness of Anna.

She said her husband was able to use a FaceTime computer application to “join” the party and had a “picture” taken with his entire family.

“Anna is a very giving and has such a kind heart,” she said. “Not many children are willing to get donations for others instead of toys for themselves on their birthday.”

Tribune-Democrat editors select a Person of the Week from nominations made by readers. To nominate someone, call 532-5058, 24 hours a day.

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