By Rick Coates
If you want to feel your heart lift for a good cause and have some family fun to boot, consider the Wings of Mercy Cairaffaire this Saturday to benefit a program which flies people in financial need to distant medical centers.
The Traverse City CareAffaire will take place at Cherry Capital Aviation (located on Airport Access on the north side of the airport which was the former entrance to the airport off of Parsons Road) from 11am to 3pm. There is no charge for the event that will feature several planes, the Coast Guard, North Flight and several fire departments who are lending their culinary skills to make the day happen. Donations will be accepted to help the Wings of Mercy, West Michigan Chapter. There will be an opportunity for plane rides as well.
The plane rides are a great way for kids who have never been up in a plane to get an opportunity to experience this and see the beauty of the region from above, said Mary Robinson, who is the school nurse and wellness coordinator for the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District. This is a great family event to benefit a wonderful organization that has helped so many families in our region.
The annual Wings of Mercy benefit almost didnt happen this year; but, according to the organizations director, an angel came to the rescue.
For the past few years we have been having a pancake breakfast at the airport to create awareness and raise funds for the Wings of Mercy, said Sharon Huminsky, flight director. Well it didnt look like it was going to happen this year until Mary Robinson stepped up to volunteer. Not only did she take the reins and run with it, she expanded the event into an afternoon affair that will now be a hot dog luncheon and several additional organizations involved in making this all happen. This event is beyond what we could have imagined.
The Wings of Mercy was founded in 1991 by Peter VandenBosch, a Holland, MI businessman and pilot who was asked to fly a person to a distant medical facility for treatment. VandenBosch learned that there were several people in the area who couldnt afford to fly to medical facilities. In June 1991, Mr. VandenBosch and a group of pilots met in Holland, Michigan to organize a service named Wings of Mercy, Inc. to offer flights at no cost to financially needy persons from that area who required specialized medical treatment at distant medical centers.
The success of the program has led to other chapters forming and to date, the West Michigan Chapter of Wings of Mercy has flown 3,425 missions.
We like to call them missions, said Huminsky. This has been our busiest year ever and in the Northern Michigan area we have made 51 missions year-to-date with more scheduled. We have 20 pilots in Northern Michigan who volunteer their services. Year-to-date we have completed 176 missions overall (statewide) with 557 hours donated by pilots with 151,000 gallons of fuel used at $4.41 per gallon on average. There is absolutely no cost to the patients and a family member or members to accompany them to their destination.
Huminsky says if you do the math you quickly see how expensive it is to offer this service.
Fuel costs this year have exceeded $600,000 alone, said Huminsky. We offer to reimburse our pilots for their fuel costs which represents about 20% of their cost to operate their plane, but most refuse even that. These are special individuals who are providing a service that is allowing for people who need specialized treatment at a distant facility who otherwise would not get the treatment they need.
She recalls one example a few years ago: We had a patient needing a transplant and it was during the holidays and I was fortunate to connect with Dr. Sean Rivard of Traverse City, who dropped everything he was doing with his family to come to our aid.
Wings of Mercy goes to great lengths to screen their pilots and to make sure that every safety precaution is taken.
We all heard about the tragic accident earlier in the summer over Lake Michigan where a pilot crashed resulting in the death of four passengers on their way for medical treatment, said Huminisky. The pilot was not a part of our organization and had he been, we would not have allowed him to fly his type of plane over Lake Michigan with patients on board.
Huminisky points out that Wings of Mercy pilots have to meet a number of standards and all flights require two pilots on board. Patients interested in the free flight service must also apply for the service.
We have criteria that has been established by the board of directors. But we work on a case by case basis with all decisions made by myself and my assistant. The founder, the board or anyone else may not step in and make these decisions. This process has served us well for nearly 20 years.
Huminisky joined Wings of Mercy several years ago as a volunteer after hearing about the organization through a friend. She eventually was asked to be a part-time administrator and the workload brought her on full-time. She is looking forward to Saturdays event.
The CareAffaire is several events in one. It is a fundraiser for us but more importantly it is an opportunity for the public to get informed on what we do. We need more pilots and this day is a great way to talk to our current pilots about helping. This is also an opportunity for patients to learn about us and several of our patients will be on hand from previous missions. We are so fortunate to the many businesses who have stepped up to make this day possible.
To donate to Wings of Mercy directly and to learn more about their organization visit www.wingsofmercy.org or call Sharon Huminsky at 888-786-3729. This Saturdays (Sept. 11) CareAffiare 2010 Hot Dog Lunch will be held from 11am - 3pm at Cherry Capital Aviation (Airport Access Road across from the Coast Guard Base)_. There is no cost but donations are appreciated. To volunteer, become a sponsor, or to donate, contact Randy Kitzman at 231-941-5709.