By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Glen and Elaine Morrow of Delano don’t claim to be angels, but they do seem to spread comfort and joy wherever they go.
Plus, they can fly.
“We got our pilots’ licenses after our daughter went to college,” Glen said. “We decided it was time to do something for ourselves.”
It didn’t take too long before that “something for ourselves” turned into “something for others,” however.
Through her women’s flying group, the 99s, Elaine helped to develop a charity called “Tree of Hope” that gives toys to children who are hospitalized during the Christmas season.
Meanwhile, Glen became involved in the Young Eagles program, which provides youth ages 8 to 17 with free airplane rides.
“We just so thoroughly enjoy flying and wanted to give back,” Elaine said.
The idea for Tree of Hope began with members of the 99s who worked in hospitals.
“They noticed that some of the kids didn’t get any toys for Christmas,” Elaine said, explaining that families were often devastated by medical expenses.
Since Tree of Hope began 20 years ago, it has provided Christmas presents to thousands of children who are undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, dialysis, transplants, or other health challenges.
“We always package the first Saturday in December and deliver the first Monday,” Elaine said, but added that although the gift giving is over for the year, donations are appreciated year-round.
Most years, the group collects 2,000 to 2,200 toys, but last year’s donations were down by about 25 percent because of the economy, according to Elaine.
People who don’t have the financial resources to donate can participate in other ways, such as volunteering their time or giving a handmade item. Elaine and many other women enjoy knitting decorative scarves for some of the older children, for example.
“The nurses say that, at night, when they go to check on the children, they are still clutching the scarves,” Elaine said. “I say, ‘tell them, that scarf is a hug from a lady pilot.’”
This year, donations were up again, and the Tree of Hope delivered to 25 hospitals throughout Minnesota.
If more toys are donated than is needed, they are given to the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC).
Cash donations are also greatly appreciated, because members of the Shriners can often purchase toys at a substantial discount.
Any leftover cash donations are used to purchase helpful medical supplies for sick children, such as an incubator for a medical helicopter or specialized games for children confined to bed.
“The key thing is, 100 percent of everything that is donated goes to the kids,” Elaine said. “We all pay our own expenses. Everything is out of our own pocket, including transportation.”
Glen’s Young Eagles service is also geared toward children. Since July 1992, he has introduced more than 400 young people to the world of flight.
“We have a lot of fun with it,” Glen said. “We love the spontaneity of it. We’re always looking for an excuse to go flying.”
Glen’s goal is to inspire youth, just like he was inspired years ago.
“In 1949, my uncle took me to an airport demonstration in Highland, WI,” he said. That day, his uncle made sure Glen got his first airplane ride.
“That stuck with me all this time,” he said.
Decades later, when Glen got his pilot’s license, he was still grateful for his uncle’s encouragement.
“After I got my license, the first person I gave a ride to was my uncle,” he said. “It turned out he had never been in an airplane. No one had ever asked him. He was responsible for my first ride, and I gave him his.”
Glen has been giving free rides to adults and children long before the Young Eagles program began, but the organization has been a fun way to share his passion with a larger audience.
“It’s really a privilege to give a ride to some of the kids,” Glen said, giving the example of a 10-year-old from Maple Plain, who made this comment during his flight:
“I never realized you could see the curvature of the earth from this low of altitude.”
Young Eagles was unveiled by the Experimental Aircraft Association as a way for young people to discover the possibilities available to them within the world of aviation.
“When they started in 1992, they said, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if between 1993 and 2003, we could give 1 million kids their first flight,’” Glen said. The significance of the year 2003 was amplified because it’s the 100th anniversary of powered flight.
The 42,000 Young Eagles pilots from around the world eagerly met that goal, and haven’t slowed down since.
To learn more, go to www.youngeagles.org.
For more information about the Tree of Hope, call Elaine at (952) 955-2802 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“You can drop off donations at your nearest airport, and we will arrange for the toys to be picked up,” Elaine said.
A Tree of Hope website has also been started, at www.holidaytreeofhope.org.