MANATEE — Dressed in army green shorts and a T-shirt, 12-year-old Kyle Peeks cheered loudly Friday as the white sheet was lifted, unveiling the newest addition to his school.
Kyle and more than 500 King Middle School students and staff members looked on as a six-foot fiberglass gecko — painted in camouflage and wearing a yellow “Support Our Troops” ribbon — was presented to them during a ceremony in honor of the work the school has done for American troops.
The “Evan’s Gecko,” created for GeckoFest 2010 on behalf of Army Sgt. Evan Eaton, a 21-year-old Manatee High School graduate, will be installed on the side of the school.
School and community leaders say it could not have been given to a better group of kids.
Since 2006, the students have sent thousands of snack packs oversees to the nation’s troops.
“I think it’s a good way to support our troops,” said Kyle, who is in sixth grade and added that many of the students pitch in their own cash to buy items to send oversees.
Each month, the children ship at least 60 of them out of the country, said Jim Comkowycz, a King teacher who oversees the students’ good deeds and whose son, Jeffrey Comkowycz, 25, was also deployed.
“It’s just awesome that it’s here,” he said. “It’s the perfect place for it to be.”
Eaton’s mother, Cecilla Eaton, is the inspiration behind the gecko and spoke on behalf of her son during Friday’s dedication.
“He couldn’t be here but he’s really thrilled,” she said as she sat inside the gymnasium of the school off 75th Street West in northwest Bradenton.
Impressed by her son’s courage, she submitted her camouflage idea to GeckoFest 2010’s committee, and the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority decided to sponsor it.
It took her 40 hours to sand and paint it, she said.
It was auctioned off at the GeckoFest and purchased for $550 by Dixie Sisson of Boyd Realty and Caroline Amory of Green New Business.
Cecilia Eaton’s portion of the proceeds from her creation will go to Manatee’s Operation Troop Support.
It was first unveiled in November and placed on the side of City Hall.
But on Friday, MOTS present director Bob Greene said the masterpiece is now where it belongs.
“This is such a fortunate place for it to be because of the connection,” Greene said just prior to the unveiling.