Monroe • Out of the fog, Santa Claus taxied down the runway in a single-engine plane with Mrs. Claus and two of his elves on Thursday as hundreds of cheering elementary schoolchildren waited.
As the temperature hovered around zero, students with red noses waited anxiously. Bundled in mittens, coats and winter hats, the children clung to the fence of an airport gate as Santa emerged from a Beechcraft Bonanza A-36 a substitute for his reindeer for the day.
St. Nick came bearing more than 5,000 pounds worth of gifts for more than 650 students at Monroe Elementary as part of the Santa Flight, an annual charity event organized by the Angel Flight program. Angel Flight is a national nonprofit volunteer group of pilots who arrange free non-emergency transportation to those with health care needs. The group's west organization held their 11th annual Santa Flight on Thursday.
Kindergarten student Jossalyn Roberts, 5, said she was so excited when she heard Santa was coming early to her school that she wore a pretty red dress with a white collar just for his arrival.
"I saw the elf," Roberts said of meeting the holiday brigade at the airport. "There were two elves, they were still making toys. He went over there and the people were taking pictures of him."
While elves handed out rainbow-colored candy canes to the children, gifts were transported to the school.
Children held homemade signs that read "Welcome Santa, Mrs. Claus and Scouts."
A school bus drove the Claus couple along with kindergarten and first-graders from the Richfield airport to the school in Monroe. During the ride, children rattled off their wish lists to Santa and sang Christmas songs.
"I wanted a dress or a toy," Roberts said. "I wanted him to surprise me."
Hundreds of students packed the school gym and watched as the old man dressed in red greet them with a hearty "Ho, ho, ho."
Kindergarten teacher Michelle Elmer said the recent tragedy in Connecticut, where 20 children ages 6 and 7 were killed by a gunman, has made her focus on never taking moments with her students for granted.
"I just love to see the light in their eyes," Elmer said. "It is such a magical time."
Seven Boy Scouts from the Salt Lake Valley and one from Cedar City gathered the donated items for the children along with $1,000 cash, as part of their Eagle Scout projects.
Scouts Nate Coelliker, 13 and Chase Larsen, 14, said it was impressive how many people came forward to donate when they began collecting items in November.
"It felt really good we could help out," Koelliker said.
Larsen handed out fliers in the neighborhood and used social media to collect donations. Scouts collected toys, school supplies, winter clothing, books and hand sanitizer, among other things.
Angel Flight West Wing Leader Steve Bollinger said five prior attempts to fly to the school had been stifled by inclement weather, but the skies finally cooperated for the 12 pilots who took off from the South Valley Airport in West Jordan Thursday morning. One pilot estimated that with the cost of fuel, time and operating expenses, each pilot personally donated about $300 to make the trip possible.
To decide what school to visit this Christmas, Bollinger looked through a list of the state's low-income schools and chose Monroe Elementary in Sevier County, where about 60 percent of the school's population is economically disadvantaged, according to statistics from the Utah Department of Education.
With beaming smiles full of more empty spaces than teeth, the young students waved and yelled, "Bye, Santa" as Kris Kringle left the school Thursday.
Roberts, meanwhile, reflected on how she was going to get her surprise presents on Christmas Day.
"I don't have a chimney, but he knows how to get inside my house, because he is magic," she said. "He uses his reindeer all day to get in the chimney. He goes to every house at one time."
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