Naples Daily News - naplesnews.com By John Osborne
IMMOKALEE, Fla. – The skies over Southwest Florida were a whole lot friendlier Thursday morning as a Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit did its best to show that hopping down the bunny trail is strictly for amateurs – or rabbits without airplanes.
Around 9:30a.m., a pairof Beechcraft carrying some very important cargo circled high above Immokalee Regional Airport before descending onto a runway illuminated by the million-watt smiles of dozens of beaming schoolchildren from the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, an organization that serves the children of migrant farm workers and the rural, low-income families throughout Florida.
Decked out in matching purple t-shirts, the children displayed remarkable restraint as the doors to the airplanes opened and the cargo was revealed, remaining seated in a ruler-straight row on the pavement with their legs crossed and their tiny hands folded neatly in their laps.
But then the star of the show disembarked from the first plane and at least some of the sense of the decorum was lost.
It was the Easter Bunny waving an oversized, snow-white paw in greeting and twitching painted –on whiskers with a button-nose. Dozens of tiny hands immediately shot up from laps to wave enthusiastically in return.
“It’s the Easter Bunny!” came the excited cries from the children. “The Easter Bunny is really here!”
And with that, the first “Bunny Flight” was officially hopping – an event that traces its roots to “Turkeys Take Flight,” a nonprofit mission started last November by a law firm and an aviation drug-testing company located on the east coast of Florida.
“I’ve wanted to give back all my life – I’ve just always felt the need to give back to folks,” explained Tom Powers, one of the Beechcraft pilots, a Vietnam War veteran and founder of Flightline Drug Testing, which partnered with the Fort Lauderdale-based Russo Firm to deliver turkeys to needy Immokalee families last Thanksgiving. “And seeing all these wonderful smiles makes it all worthwhile. It just warms my heart.”
One of those wonderful smiles Thursday belonged to 8-year-old Miranda Salas, a student at Immokalee Community School. As she clutched an Easter bag filled with such goodies as crayons, coloring books, pencils and enough candy to satisfy even the sweetest of teeth – an Easter bag she received from the Easter Bunny personally – Miranda said she found it difficult to say what she liked best about the event.
“I like it all,” she said with an ear-to-ear grin. “I’m so happy I got this bag, and I’m also so happy that I got to take a picture with the Easter Bunny. Everything is just very, very exciting.”
Asked then who was her favorite – the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus – Miranda knitted her brow in concentration for a moment before deciding to take the diplomatic route.
“Both!” she said.
Ida Eguia, an RCMA program specialist, said Turkeys Take Flight performed a tremendous service for underprivileged Immokalee families Thursday, much as it did last November when it delivered all the makings for a filling Thanksgiving dinner.
Sweeping a hand toward the assembled children, a wide smile crossed Eguia’s face.
“This means so much to them,” she said. “Most of them wouldn’t have gotten Easter baskets this year otherwise, and this takes a huge burden off the families for needing to buy one.”
RCMA community relations director Gloria Moorman said much the same.
“It’s a wonderful partnership we have with Turkeys Take Flight,” she said, noting that her Immokalee-based organization serves 7,000 children in 21 counties throughout the state, including more than 500 children in Immokalee. “To see them get these Easter baskets means so much, especially since their parents work all day, every day, in the field for very little money.”
Robert Taylor, an investigator for The Russo Firm – the firm representing the family of a 90-year-old man who was left outside in the sun at a Naples nursing home – said Turkeys Take Flight would like to expand its aviation-based events even further in the future if given its druthers.
“The more sponsors we get, the more we can do for the kids,” he said.
For more information on the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, see www.rcma.org.
For more information or to donate to Turkeys Take Flight, follow Flightline Drug Testing on Facebook or see www.therussofirm.com.