Christmas Eve is meant to be one of the most exciting nights of the year for little ones. They can hardly contain their enthusiasm while being tucked in for the night to await the arrival of eight tiny reindeer on their rooftops. However, this wasn’t the case on December 24th, 2014 for one family. Instead of mom and dad scrambling to wrap last-minute additions to groups of presents without waking their sleeping brood, the family of a local veteran was instead hanging their heads because they weren’t going to be able to afford Christmas. Little did they know that the VFW in conjunction with the Colorado Aviation Business Association was about to save Christmas via airlift.
Shortly after midnight, the family was alerted to a knock at the door and upon opening it, discovered Santa standing there with a bag of toys and food.
For years the two organizations have worked alongside one another in efforts to make certain veterans and their families are able to celebrate the holiday with toys and food items. The VFW identifies veterans in need, of which some are homeless, wounded or having just recently returned from overseas, and then donations are collected. The Colorado Aviation Business Association (CABA) then steps in with member assistance, aviation student pilots and private pilots for the holiday airlift, which delivers the gifts to veterans throughout the state. All of the pilots and students, as well as members involved, volunteer their time and efforts in the pursuit to bring joy to the veterans and their loved ones.
“Everyone who’s flying in this airlift is doing so out of the goodness of their hearts because they’re paying for everything.”
According to CABA board member Kenn Kline, coordinator of the effort, “It’s definitely a complicated logistical thing.”
Mr. Kline, who is an Airforce veteran himself, is also a member of the VFW. According to CABA,
Their goal is to impress upon the population at large the importance of aviation activities and community airports. It’s starting to have an effect as members of the public have asserted that they have noticed the positive impact the holiday airlift has had.
According to Kline the holiday airlift has lessened the divide between communities within the state of Colorado. CABA is planning to host their annual holiday party. The cost of admission is the donation of food or a toy. After which, aviation industry volunteers will collect the donations then they are moved to a local hangar to await the drop. In 2013, the airlift was able to deliver up to 8000 pounds of food and toys amongst 480 individuals. Recent collaborations with larger food production companies have resulted in even larger donation amounts.
According to the pilots, the toy donations are slightly trickier as they weigh less than canned or dry goods, but take up more room.
Kline has remarked that it was tricky to fly an aircraft with a teddy bear that engulfs the entire fuselage.
He said, “Try flying a Cessna 172 with a teddy bear that takes up the whole cabin.”
On the day of the airlift, roughly 15 planes are filled with donations. The planes will then fly to cities throughout the state wherein the VFW has determined a need for assistance.
Kline has indicated that the holiday airlift has had a beneficial effect. He said it has been a positive in a world full of negatives.
Organizers have further mentioned the holiday airlift has been impactful for the recipients of the donations as well.
Kilen recalled that “A young woman called me in 2012, the second year we were going to do this, and she said, ‘My husband and I benefited from what you did last year. Now I have a job and he has a job,’”
He went on to reminisce about it saying, “She was calling about how she could now contribute. That’s what paying it forward means among veterans.”