PRICE, Utah (ABC4) – Take the day off, Rudolph. Santa’s taking another means of transportation.
Today’s mode of aerial transport: a Piper Meridian M600, a small passenger plane. The destination: Carbon County-Price Regional Airport to deliver an early Christmas gift of about 8,500 pounds of school supplies, warm clothing, and toys, along with $10,000 in checks to a Title One school in Price.
“What he’s doing right now is he’s given his reindeer a break, so they’re getting ready for Christmas,” Utah Wing Leader Steve Bollinger of Angel Flight West, the group that flew Santa to Carbon County on Monday, explains. “And so he took an airplane.”
Waiting to greet Santa at the airport was a fired-up group of 485 students from Creekview Elementary, most of whom benefit from free or discounted lunches, who had been bused in for the special occasion.
It turned out to be a school assembly like none other, with a police escort accompanying the entire student body to the airfield to greet their special guest, who had been kept a secret from the kids over months of planning.
Waiting for the guest in a hangar, the students enjoyed watching plane after plane, 27 in total, land on the airstrip and drop off box after box of goodies, including coats, books, and toys. When the Jolly Old Man, along with Mrs. Claus, and a couple of elves, emerged from the final plane, the crowd went wild.
“When Santa touched down and taxied over, they went crazy as he got out of the plane,” Creekview Principal Keith Palmer says. “And it was awesome.”
Arriving at the unforgettable moment took weeks of planning and coordination, along with a remarkable amount of generosity from the pilots carrying the donations. Everything given to the students came from offerings provided by community members, church groups, local businesses, six Eagle Scouts who chipped in their efforts, and the pilots themselves.
The donations, Palmer says, are greatly appreciated.
“For many of these students, this is going to add to or make a Christmas much better.”
Unboxing the gifts has already filled two classrooms at the school, as a group of teachers and PTA leaders are working to sort out what the students received. Once it gets sorted out, they’ll distribute the goods to the students most in need first. Chances are, nearly everyone at the school will see a little extra something from the special delivery.
For those who brought the goods, doing so is a favorite group activity. However, the Angel Flight team is no stranger to enormous acts of service. The group of pilots, who Bollinger explains come from all walks of life, typically make their rounds through the air donating their ability, time, and fuel to fly folks who have to travel for medical needs to their destinations all over the Intermountain West.
The Santa Flight, an annual tradition for Angel Flight, is typically the most enjoyable trip of the year for the pilots.
“I have plenty of pilots that they tell me this is the highlight of the year. This is how they kick off the holiday season,” Bollinger, a 40-year flying veteran, states. “This gets them in the Christmas spirit, and the pilots love it, the kids love it.”
The gesture isn’t lost on Palmer, who worried it may have been too much for the students to grasp. Since returning to the school, he’s brought a few students into the classrooms to see the donations and better understand the kindness they were shown by people they may never meet in person.
“Those pilots and the six Eagle Scouts who worked on this, they don’t know these kids, I’ve never met them,” Palmer gushes. “So for them to give away their time and efforts for several months, to gather the stuff and then to take the expense to fly here and all those things that they gave is just amazing.”
Bollinger says getting into the holiday spirit – and adding a bit of aircraft-fueled flair – is just what being a pilot in the Angel Flight program is all about.
“The mentality of a pilot is we love to fly, we love to be in the air,” he says. “And so if we can find something like this, where we can help out a community or a school, where sometimes some of these families don’t have much of a Christmas and if we can, brighten their lives and especially during these times and make a difference, it’s just a win-win situation.”
Seems like Santa’s attitude might be rubbing off on those who have to make their trips without a fleet of reindeer.