Not many charities have this problem. Come to think of it, this might be a first:
Too much money and not enough takers.
Welcome to the Airfare Assistance Fund, formed in April 2008 by the New Covenant Community Church in West Akron.
Led at the time by the Rev. Dick Griffith, the church stepped forward after a Beacon Journal column about families going into debt to fly their loved ones home after tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The problem was this: Although the U.S. military pays to fly the troops from war zones back to their domestic bases, service members are on their own when it comes to getting all the way back to their hometowns.
Commercial airlines offer extremely limited military discounts or none at all. And because a soldier usually doesn’t know the date of his leave until the last minute, he often has to pay the same astronomical fare as last-minute business travelers.
So the church volunteered to administer a fund, and money began to flow in. Individuals, businesses and service organizations contributed. A fourth-grade class at Northwest Elementary School raised $1,400 by outworking other classes in a contest to see whose teacher would have to kiss a 200-pound pig.
In the end, the Airfare Assistance Fund wound up helping 26 area families to the tune of $29,182 in tickets. Heartwarming tales of emotional reunions were numerous.
After a few years, though, the number of families applying for help plummeted, perhaps because of a lack of ongoing publicity. At the end of last year, the fund contained $12,373, with no one to spend it on.
“In the past year,” says church treasurer John Sezna, “we have not received any requests for assistance in spite of our efforts to find people who might need this service.”
So the church had to figure out what to do with the money. After a lengthy investigation of military charities, it made an excellent choice.
Hard to believe anyone would quarrel with New Covenant’s decision to forward the excess money to Luke’s Wings, an organization that provides the families of wounded service members the airfare to visit them during their hospitalization and rehabilitation.
That mission certainly matches the general theme of the Airfare Assistance Fund. And Luke’s Wings, founded the same year as the AAF, has credibility. It forwards a high percentage of the money it collects directly to the cause.
According to its latest Form 990 tax return filed with the IRS (and available to the public via Guidestar.com), Luke’s Wings sends 73 percent of its income to the families. That’s better than all but eight of the 44 veteran and military charities studied by the watchdog group CharityWatch.
Better still, Luke’s Wings has promised to use 100 percent of the Akron money on families — and to give priority to Ohioans.
As causes go, you could do a lot worse than helping people who were sent abroad to fight for us and came back in tatters.
To contact Luke’s Wings, go to the website — www.lukeswings.org — or phone 410-294-8011.
Checks may be sent to: Luke’s Wings, 1238 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 401, Washington, D.C. 20007.
To make a donation over the phone, call 202-735-5694.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.