Tree of Hope prepares for takeoff

Pilots in Minnesota are busy planning for this year’s Tree of Hope, an effort to collect toys for kids who are hospitalized during the holidays.

The all-volunteer program 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 illnesses, some recovering from surgery or an accident. Ray and Celeste asked their aviation friends to help bring some joy to these children by bringing toys as they gathered to enjoy a potluck dinner. This was the beginning of the Tree of Hope program.

Last year about 2,000 toys were collected and distributed to more than 30 hospitals across the state of Minnesota.

Click to view slideshow.

The pilots behind the program realize there are many programs that collect toys for children during the holidays, but they emphasize that this is the only program that collects toys for children who are hospitalized.

An official at one hospital commented, “with donations like the one you made to us, we are able to provide a sense of normalization and celebrate the holidays even if they are away from home. Your gifts will bring smiles to our pediatric patients and help them heal through play.” Another hospital said, “Your generosity brings so many smiles from the kids and their families.”

Tree of Hope is collecting unwrapped toys for children ages infant to 18 years old Saturday, Dec. 7 (rain date Sunday, Dec. 8), from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Maple Lake Airport (MGG) in Maple Lake.

Pilots are asked to bring one toy or more. Keep in mind that many of these children are either in bed or not very active, so gifts that they can use while in the hospital are appreciated. Monetary donations are accepted and will be used to buy toys. Every donation, be it toys or money, goes directly to the children. All expenses are paid by volunteers, according to the organizers.

At the airport, the toys will have a Tree of Hope label attached, sorted into age groups and placed in bags to be delivered to the hospitals. The toys will then be ready to be delivered by the Minnesota 99s and other volunteer pilots.

For more information: HolidayTreeOfHope.org

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