Santa has started making early deliveries in the Great Lakes area. More than 140 airplanes flown by pilots operating on their own nickels descended on Michigan’s Oakland County International on Dec. 8 to participate in Operation Good Cheer and transport more than 16,000 wrapped Christmas presents to needy children in foster care across the state.
The massive annual toy lift was the culmination of nearly a year of work by volunteers who help Child and Family Services of Michigan, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening children and families. During the year, children in foster care who might not otherwise get gifts at Christmas were identified, and individuals and organizations bought and wrapped presents for each child and arranged to get them to the Pontiac airport.
The airplanes began arriving before dawn. Upon checking in, pilots were shepherded by a team led by air traffic controllers from the Detroit and Pontiac areas and given their mission destinations. Standing in 22 degrees F and 15-knot winds, volunteers helped each pilot load his or her airplane with as many toys as could be stuffed aboard. Airplanes ranged from two-place trainers through high-end bizjets. There was also a rare Convair 5800, donated by local cargo airline IFL Group.
By noon, the airplanes were being greeted by more excited volunteers who helped unload the presents. They will deliver them to the foster families in time for Christmas. Despite the icy nip in the air, participants reported seeing more Santa hats and smiling people in one place than they could conveniently recall.