Area residents and pilots flying in to South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field have the opportunity to help feed local families this holiday season, win grand prizes (including round-trip airline tickets and medical flight services) and take advantage of discounts on airplane fuel while doing so.
SARA is partnering with Southern Airways Express and Survival Flight for the "Drive-In or Fly-In" food drive, which kicked off Monday.
On the first day of the drive, Johnathan Estes, manager of SARA, said the first box of food items was filled and delivered to the Salvation Army of El Dorado.
Estes said organizers hope the remainder of the drive will move at a similar pace to help as many families as possible for Thanksgiving and Christmas -- many of whom have faced hardships in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The food drive will end at noon Dec. 27.
Donations may be dropped off at City Hall, 204 N. West Ave.; or the SARA terminal, 418 Airport Drive, which is about eight miles west of city limits, off U.S. 82/Magnolia Highway.
Non-perishable, frozen and fresh-food items are accepted.
Estes urged people who donate frozen and fresh food to notify the staff at City Hall and the airport during the drop-off so that the items may be delivered to the Salvation Army immediately.
Donors are asked to check the expiration and "best by" dates on the packages of food that they contribute to the drive.
Estes said he came up with the idea of a holiday food drive on Oct. 29 and he immediately set about planning the event.
Unbeknownst to him, Survival Flight -- the Batesville-based emergency medical transportation company who contracts with Medical Center of South Arkansas -- and Southern Airways Express -- the area's commercial, Essential Air Service provider who flies out of SARA, offering flights to Dallas, Memphis and intrastate routes to Hot Springs and Harrison -- had similar ideas of their own.
Estes said he learned that Survival Flight was planning its annual Christmas Wish campaign, in which the company surprises an area family with holiday gifts.
Each holiday season, Survival Flight selects a local family in each community that it serves and helps to make their "Christmas Wish" come true.
Nominations are open for the Christmas Wish and may be submitted by sending an email to [email protected] or a message on the company's Facebook page.
People nominating potential Wish recipients are asked to include a brief statement explaining why the family should be selected for the Christmas Wish, with details such as the family's names, ages, city of residence, clothing sizes (shirts, pants and shoes), favorite color, movie, toy and any other needs.
Area residents may nominate their own family or another family.
Upon receiving the nominations, Survival Flight crews will select a family and shop for the items that are listed in the nomination.
Crews will then gift-wrap the packages and deliver them to the family.
"It just so happens that the food drive will be coupled with Survival Flight's Christmas Wish," Estes said.
Upon hearing about plans for "Drive-In or Fly-In," Survival Flight did Estes one better and offered a one-year free membership for its services as a prize that will be included in a drawing for people who donate to the drive.
Estes also discussed the idea for the holiday the food drive with Southern Airways, who eagerly jumped aboard with an offer to give away three pairs of round-trip tickets to Dallas or Memphis for the grand-prize drawing.
The airline tickets will be good for up to a year.
For every four food items that are donated, the donors' names will be entered into the drawing to win either the Survival Flight membership or a pair of airline tickets, Estes said.
To help prevent bending the odds of winning in any particular favor and to keep the focus on helping families in need, Estes said single-food items -- such as a candy bar or a package of noodle soup -- will not qualify for the drawing.
"Twelve Ramen, a box, or a whole bag of Snickers can count towards being one food item," Estes explained.
"While we accept all donations, we respectfully ask that the public not try to 'game' the drawings by trying to do such donations," he continued. "While we try to incentivize more donations, we don't want to proliferate 'small-item' donations to stack the odds of winning."
The drawing will be held Dec. 29.
To help extend "Drive-In or Fly-In" to a broader reach, Estes said that pilots who fly into SARA and donate to the drive will be eligible to receive a discount of up to 10 cents per gallon off fuel that is purchased from SARA's fixed-base operation.
The discount does not apply to contract fuel rates.
"I am pushing it statewide and I'm doing the best I can to get it out nationwide," Estes said.
For more information about the food drive, call Estes at 870-881-4192.