ST. GEORGE — Each year, volunteer pilots from Angel Flight West Utah generously donate their time and fuel to fly Santa Claus to one select school in Utah.

Steve Bollinger was awarded “Best Helper Ever” by Santa Claus in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2023 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

Sunset Elementary School was selected to join in the fun this year as students were packed into buses and taken to St. George Airport to join Santa, Mrs. Claus and their elves in Christmas carols and every student received a special gift from Santa himself on Dec. 7.

The initiative was supported by various community organizations across Utah, involving the collection and delivery of donated school supplies, books, backpacks, and clothing tailored to the specific needs of Sunset Elementary School.

Financial contributions from Mountain America Credit Union and Bank of Utah played a crucial role in stocking the planes for this festive endeavor.

Television station KUED Utah, a Public Broadcasting Service member, also played its part by contributing over 600 books through its “Ready to Learn” program, which emphasizes literacy and other essential family development programs.

Following Santa’s grand entrance, Principal Julie Smith hosted a short assembly, during which the kids serenaded the pilots with holiday songs.

“Just seeing the kids so excited was so fun,” she said. “They all got a gift from Santa, they all got a beanie and gloves they were able to open and wear, and a book. And they’ve been so excited to come out here. We’re a walking school, so we don’t have buses. For this they got to ride a bus and come out here to the airport. The whole experience has just been amazing. The people that put in all of this effort to make this happen. I just appreciate them.”

Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves hand out candy canes at the 2015 “Santa Flight” to Manti Elementary School, Manti, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Angel Flight West, St. George News

AFW Utah Wing Leader, Steve Bollinger, then formally presented the donated items to the school.

“We just love flying in here, seeing their faces, being able to help out the community a little bit, bringing some flights and Christmas cheer. And it’s just a great event for us to tell on a personal level,” Bollinger said.

The annual Santa Flight tradition dates back to 2000, with Utah Wing members collaborating closely with local communities to gather essential supplies and toys for delivery to Title One Schools in rural areas throughout Utah.

Expressing gratitude for the generosity of pilots and community groups, Bollinger stated, “For some of them, you know, this may be a little bit of relief from their normal stress and anxiety that they have sometimes. And it’s just great to know that we can give them a break and be able to come in here and have some fun.”

Founded in 1983, Angel Flight West stood as a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization that facilitates free, non-emergency air travel for children and adults facing serious medical conditions and other compelling needs.

This year marked the organization’s 40th anniversary and the completion of an incredible 100,000 missions flown. The Utah Wing, consisting of 92 dedicated pilots, carried out over 150 missions annually within Utah and throughout the intermountain west states.

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