Last week, area school children were able to watch Santa fly a plane into their community, bringing toys and other gifts for them. The event was part of Red Sleighs Over Montana, a program of the Museum of Mountain Flying.
In 2020, the Museum of Mountain Flying initiated the inaugural Red Sleighs over Montana. Project organizers identified nearly 20 rural communities throughout Western Montana with limited economic resources.
Volunteers worked with these communities to identify families in need as well as general opportunities of giving – “a chance to make children’s wishes come true,” according to their public relations materials. Organizers recruited local “pilots turned Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus” and “elves” who were able to fly to these communities delivering donated toys, clothing, blankets, and other gifts to nearly 1000 children.
Volunteers with the Museum of Mountain Flying and Red Sleighs Over Montana collect hundreds of new items for the children to choose from. They also try to help one or two specific families in need in each community. They are not given their names, but a general idea of number of children, ages, special “wishes.” Santa delivers these “special sacks” when he touches down at the local airports. The pilots donate time, energy and all aircraft expenses for the project.
The Red Sleighs Over Montana were flying once again this year. According to Kathi Olson, volunteer with the Museum of Mountain Flying and Red Sleighs Over Montana, the Museum coordinated over 25 pilots to deliver toys and blankets to rural western Montana communities. The goal was to make this year’s endeavor more expansive than ever, adding several more Montana communities along with Sandpoint and Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho.
Last Tuesday, the planes visited Stevensville, Hamilton and Darby. In Darby, pilot Erick Komberec, the president of Museum of Mountain Flying, brought gifts for about 300 children.
About 80 Stevensville second graders were at the airport to welcome two fixed-wing airplanes, one flown by Santa Claus himself, and some elf helpers, bringing toys for all the children.
This year’s pilot Santa was Ernie Hummer, flying a Cessna 182. Accompanying him was another similar aircraft, flown by pilot Andrew Gaumer, both laden with toys and gifts and “elf” helpers.
Hummer and Gaumer also flew in to Hamilton, where they wanted to say thank you to the local fire department and EMS crews.
Olson said that she wanted to give a special shout out to Stevensville resident Trinity Gibson, owner of Paxton Castle (406.274.6024), who very generously donated 80 of her individually made hand puppets to each of the 2nd graders (value: approx. $1000). Gibson is well known for her unique and creative designs which brought huge smiles to each child’s face! The remaining puppets and toys were left with the teachers so that children who were ill or not in school received items.
Olson said that Pat Collins, Museum Volunteer, coordinated the Missoula donation and fund-raising efforts. Olson, Julie Lynch, Jauna Poindexter, Barb Christian, Rhonda Hunt, Joleen Tatum and Jamie Merifield worked with Collins to solidify arrangements with schools and agencies that work with families in need.
Olson estimated that well over 1000 children were served this year, topping last year’s numbers.
She thanked the staff at the local schools for help in coordinating the visits.