Do you belong to an aviation group or have a group of friends that are looking for an excuse to fly? You may be interested in learning about the Tree of Hope, a group of volunteers from aviation clubs, EAA chapters, Minnesota Ninety-Nines, Shriners, FBOs, and other aviation enthusiasts who collect and distribute toys to children who have to spend the holidays in hospitals.
Tree of Hope was started in 1990 by Ray and Celeste Shefland who noticed that there were many children who spent time in the hospital over the holidays. Some of them were dealing with a major or terminal illness, some recovering from surgery or an accident. Many of them were far from home and missing their families and friends.
Ray and Celeste asked their aviation friends to help provide joy and hope for these children by bringing toys as they gathered to enjoy a potluck dinner at the Nary National-Shefland Field Airport (5C3) in Minnesota. As the pilots flew into the airport, they were greeted by a brightly lit “Tree of Hope” at the end of the runway. This collection of toys has happened every year since, giving children all over the state of Minnesota a little ray of hope in the midst of a difficult situation.
Last year the Tree of Hope Program was able to supply toys to 24 hospitals across the state, including seven new hospitals, the couple said. Many hospitals have holiday parties where the toys are handed out. The parties and gifts help the children to forget their fears and pain and just be a child for a few hours.
You can help by collecting unwrapped toys for children ages infant to 18 years old. Keep in mind that many of these children are either in bed or not very mobile, so gifts that they can use while in the hospital are appreciated. Monetary donations are accepted and will be used to purchase toys. Every donation, be it toys or money, goes directly to the children, since 100% of expenses are paid for by the volunteers.
Toys can be flown or driven to the collection site at the Maple Lake or Duluth/Superior airports on Saturday, Dec. 3, with Sunday Dec. 4, as a back up in case of bad weather. At the collection sites, the toys will be labeled “Tree of Hope,” sorted by age group, and bagged, then sent with volunteers to the various hospitals across the state.
“Each year we hear from many of the hospitals that have received the toys, but one hospital gave meaning to what the Tree of Hope Program is all about: ‘Your generosity is highly appreciated. It is very difficult for a child to be hospitalized, and your gift helps put a smile on a little face,’” Celeste said
Contact: Superior Municipal Airport (SUW), Elaine Morrow Hanger A8, 952-955-2802, EAA272.org; Maple Lake Airport: 320-963-5094.
For more information: HolidayTreeOfHope.org