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Airlifts spread holiday cheer to children

Santa flies GA in MichiganMany children this holiday season will be looking to the skies—not for a sleigh with a man in a bright red suit and eight tiny reindeer, but for a pilot in a small airplane.

Pilots nationwide are helping organizations to collect and deliver presents that will find their way to grateful children.

On Nov. 15, nearly 30 pilots from Arizona’s Sierra Vista Municipal and Deer Valley airports flew 13 aircraft filled with toys and food to the Navajo Nation near the New Mexico border as part of the twenty-fourth Annual Christmas Airlift, reports the Herald/Review.

Toys being loaded into GA aircraftWings of Faith Ministries, based in Tustin, Calif., has been using general aviation airplanes to deliver toys since 1976, one year after the group formed. The first airlift started with one airplane filled with toys for 50 children in a Mexican orphanage and 30 children on an American Indian reservation. Now, 12 to 14 volunteer pilots deliver to 15 locations, including a warehouse in Yuma, Ariz., where 30 missionaries stationed in Mexico come to pick up the toys and deliver them to their communities. They also fly to 10 American Indian tribes, two children hospitals, a school, and a children’s rehabilitation center.

Airlifts begin the first week of DecemberThe group flies supplies to these locations throughout the year, but “the toys are a fringe benefit at the end of the year,” said Dale Whinery, founder and president of the organization. Airlifts begin the first week of December and continue up to Christmas Eve. Toys that aren’t delivered by then will be flown after Christmas. Whinery said that they fly to high-elevation areas in Arizona and New Mexico, and the weather determines when they can make the deliveries. The organization owns a Cessna 140, Cessna 182, and Cessna 206, but volunteer pilots also donate their time and aircraft to make the trips.

More than 4,000 infants, children, teenagers, and adults with disabilities receive gifts each year through the Child & Family Services of Michigan Operation Good Cheer based out of Oakland County International in Pontiac. The project, which started in the 1980s, will deliver 15,000 toys this year.

Photos courtesy of Operation Good Cheer

December 19, 2008

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