The first planeload of toys touched down Tuesday at the Chilliwack Airport to make the season brighter for local families.
Victoria lawyer John-Andrew Pankiw-Petty started the “Santa Flight Toy Drive for Chilliwack” a couple of weeks ago after feeling compelled to help in the wake of catastrophic flooding.
“When we found out some people were just trying to keep their cattle alive and their families safe, and that Christmas was the last thing on their minds, we knew we had to try to help,” he said.
Toys, gifts and clothes were collected at the Victoria Flying Club to be flown out to Chilliwack on a series of “Santa” flights piloted by volunteers, after reaching out to Chilliwack Community Services (CCS) to set it up.
Shirley Triemstra, CCS fundraising co-ordinator, said she became Pankiw-Petty’s point of contact in Chilliwack, and was totally blown away by the toy drive effort he launched.
“He was just a guy who wanted to help. I’ve been here five years and no one has ever flown in Christmas gift for kids,” Triemstra said.
Volunteer pilots and members of the 700-strong Victoria Flying Club, as well as community donors from across Vancouver Island and Vancouver pitched in to the total of $3,000 worth of gifts and donations.
The gifts and toys will be shared with the Yarrow Food Hub, and Abbotsford Community Services, as well as CCS, added Triemstra.
The first Santa flight to arrive in Chilliwack on Dec. 14 was thanks to pilot Ryan Enns, who flew them from Victoria in his two-seater kit plane to hand over the first small load of donated gifts.
“We’ve got toys, toiletries, about $350 in gift cards, hats, kids’ clothes, babies’ clothes, stuffies, and one giant mermaid blanket,” Pankiw-Petty said, listing the inventory of donations.
CCS officials were at the airport to greet the Santa flight pilots, including Triemstra, CCS executive director Diane Janzen, and executive assistant Julie Nickel.
Flying club put out the call for toys, and donated a flight to transport all the gifts to Chilliwack. That kicked off a stream of generosity from the larger community.
“The folks on Vancouver Island really felt connected to this project,” Pankiw-Petty said. “We’re all one province. Everyone over there feels like they’re going through it too, even though we’re not.”
Many were eager to help.
“We can’t imagine what it’s like to go through what you’re going through out here. So when we asked people to help out, the response was incredible, from law firms and businesses downtown, to the Victoria Flying Club, and pilots.”
“Folks in the neighbourhood started showing up at our house with toys and gifts, so it all has been pretty special.”
There were contributions from the Victoria Flying Club, JPL Litigation, Sean Finn and staff at Jones Emery Hargraves Swan LLP, Digital Direct Printing, Garside Signs, and Pacific Sky Aviation.
A second flight is expected to bring over the remaining gifts and donations, but it was not known at press time when that would be.
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