Christmas Flight brings hope and cheer
Karsten Midtun, a former SAS captain, is standing in the Christmas Flight warehouse at Oslo Gardermoen Airport. Behind him are pallets of food, clothing, shoes, and toys that Midtun and his colleagues at SAS have collected. There is enough to fill several trailers. Everything is being shipped to Tallinn to be distributed to children in orphanages and poor families.
The Christmas Flight has a simple aim: to spread Christmas cheer and help people in need. “We help those at the bottom of the pile and try to give them a sense of dignity,” Midtun says as he continues loading.
The destination is Bethel’s Centre of Pastoral Care, home to 30 children aged between 1 and 18, in need of a place to live while their parents are searching for a place to live or during other family crises. The Center is dependent on voluntary contributions for food, clothing, and health care.
“The center manager, Mati Sinisaas, does everything he can to help the children make the best of things,” Midtun says. “And he is also responsible for distributing goods to other people in need, such as other orphanages in the district and families who need urgent help. Nothing goes to waste here.”
One of the most important areas in need of help is the Tallinn district of Kopli. Russians lived there in the Soviet era. After 1991 when Estonia regained independence the situation was difficult for everyone. The Russians in Estonia got it harder in terms of both job opportunities and health care. Today, it is home to the city’s poorest people.
“We don’t get any support from the government,” Sinisaas says. “Without these shipments, we wouldn’t be able to keep the day center going. When the children see that another life is possible, this motivates them to go to school and build a future for themselves.”
The Christmas Flight was started by Midtun in 1985 when he was the station director for Norwegian regional airline Norving and wanted to create publicity about the company. However, the
About the Christmas flight
Relief action by SAS employees. Throughout the year, employees collect goods and money from companies and private individuals. Families are invited to the Christmas party with entertainment, music, and presents. Statoil donates the fuel, and all airport charges are waived. Oslo Airport does not charge for warehouse storage. SAS crew members and technical personnel fly to Tallinn on their own time.
project quickly developed into a disaster relief agency. The first destination was Gdansk in Poland.
“Children were dying of simple infections in hospitals, and children in orphanages were malnourished,” he says. “I felt such an urge to help them.”
The first flight landed in December of that year with food, medicine, and clothes that were donated to orphanages and hospitals. When Midtun came to SAS in 1987, he took the Christmas Flight project with him, and since 1988, SAS has sent one of its own aircraft, and later also trucks, to several dark corners of Europe. In addition to four years of shipments to Gdansk, the destination map has also included Latvia. In 2003, Midtun landed in Tallinn, and this year the Christmas Flight will make its 12th trip there.
It is primarily SAS employees – who collect goods, sign sponsors, fly unpaid to Tallinn, and make sure that everything arrives in time for Christmas – that make this Christmas dream come true.
“The Christmas Flight is not part of any general business plan at SAS,” says Eivind Roald, SAS Executive Vice Rresident, Sales and Marketing. “It’s rooted in the humanitarian commitment of all these wonderful people who take part. Care and consideration for others are core values for SAS. The SAS Christmas Flight fully lives up to these values.”
Love is infectious. When one company has contributed with goods or practical help, friends and competitors do the same. Every year, Nestlé has donated large quantities of baby food and other products.
“Nine years ago, we were asked if we’d like to make a contribution, and we said yes right away,” says Per Steinar Iversen of Nestlé. “During our visit to Tallinn, we were shocked by the pressing need we witnessed and decided to do even more. We now send enough food to last them until the next time we come.”
Countless individuals also make a contribution.
“I wanted to help and teach my children to do the same,” says Lene Midling-Jenssen as she loads sacks of toys and clothes she’s collected herself. “We can all do our bit. People thank us when we come, but I’m really the one who should be thanking them. The delight you see in the children’s faces is the best reward there is. The only sad thing is that there is still a need for this kind of help.”
Having headed and organized the SAS Christmas Flight since 1988, it is now Karsten Midtun’s turn to receive help.
“I aim to persuade Sweden and Denmark to join the SAS Christmas Flight campaign,” says Finn-Jørgen Steen, who will be responsible for organizing the flight in the future.
Text: Inga Ragnhild Holst
Published: January 4, 2016