Ending the Year on a High Note
As we roll into 2021, I can’t help but reflect on the crazy year behind us. The impact of COVID-19 will be with us for years. While things are different, our focus has been on continuing to carry out our mission – helping those in need of essential medical treatment, one by one! Except for a brief pause early on, we continue flying passenger missions, while also flying family comfort packages and PPE in the Four Corners region and PPE in Colorado. You have heard us share a number of times about our COVID relief flights and how they have been critical to the care of so many people.
As we move into the holiday season and work on our “Santa Flights,” I can’t help but feel awed by the generosity and heart of you, our pilot volunteers. For over a decade now, the Utah Wing has been organizing Santa Flights flying out of Salt Lake City to a remote town in Utah. Each year they fly to a different school in need of assistance. So, on a wintry day every year, Santa and his helpers descend upon an airport to be met by hundreds of screaming school kids waiting to see the man himself. Mrs. Claus and the elves step out of a plane laden with gifts. This year, Utah is planning their flights in Cedar City and we are all excited to see the results.
Knowing that so many are feeling the pinch of the impact of COVID, we wanted to make the holidays a bit brighter for some of our passengers, especially those with children at home. So, we decided to play “Santa” to a few families across our region. Once again, we asked and you, our pilots, stepped up. We asked pilots if they wanted to buy gifts for families and fly them to the passengers’ home airports. Forty-seven pilots stepped up and will be serving thirteen families! The response was remarkable! Some of them are purchasing gifts and flying, and some are donating gifts to be flown by other pilots. As always, AFW pilots show their generosity and their heart.
Steve Laflin, our ID Wing Leader and Boise pilot Rick Holloway will fly gifts to the Carter S. family. Carter is 2 ½ years old and is traveling for reconstructive surgeries to his face for a dog bite he received when he was four months old. Carter lives with his grandma Jenny, and he and his aunt (almost sister) will be blessed with an extra-special Christmas this year! I think Santa is even bringing gifts for grandma and grandpa!
Two-and-a-half-year-old Carter with grandma Jenny
Brielle H. and her sister Brooke will be dancing to visions of sugarplums in their heads when the planes of pilots Jason Fiala, and Tom McIntosh land. Those aircraft will be brimming with gifts for the two girls and their mom Brigette. We know NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve – maybe they will be watching these guys as they arrive in Pagosa Springs, too!
Brielle H. and her sister Brooke
And in Southern California, the family of Kaylie H. will be waiting at the airport when Jason Chipkin, Shane Reichardt and Jim Francis land laden with toys, bikes, clothing and more to brighten the Christmas of Kaylie and her brother Gael.
As many of you know, and for those of you who don’t know, I’ve been at this a long time – 23 years to be exact! I have said numerous times how generous our pilots are, how their dedication to flying missions and caring for people continues to inspire me. But watching this holiday miracle unfold before my eyes has once again made me thank my lucky stars that over two decades ago I walked into a small office at the Santa Monica Airport and applied for a twelve-hour-per-week job to be the “assistant to a mission coordinator.” From our daily missions, camp flights, days following 9-11, 2004 wounded warrior flights, working with organizations across the country following Hurricane Katrina, scheduling Alaska Airlines flights for relief workers following the earthquake in Haiti, helping domestic violence survivors begin a new life somewhere safe, to the crazy year we have had with COVID-19 and our relief flights, I can’t imagine a world without AFW! From the pilots who signed up right away to “adopt-a-family,” to the pilots who said they couldn’t fly, but would generously donate gifts to the effort – each day has brought us more joy. We started late and we started slow, but once again our pilots have pulled us up and taken us over the top. May your holidays be blessed with love and warmth, and we hope you stay safe and sane wherever you are celebrating.