A cherished holiday tradition on Tangier Island won’t go on as planned this year, but there are still ways to support the islanders.
Bay Bulletin has flown along with volunteer pilots in the Tangier Holly Run, which was set to take place for the 51st time this December. The unique event has small-aircraft pilots playing Santa, taking off from Kent Island and flying in school supplies and items for the elderly population along with holiday cheer. The “Holly Run” name refers to the festive greenery that is flown in because such greens don’t usually grow on the island.
This year, the Holly Run is being postponed to protect island residents, many of whom are elderly, from the spread of COVID-19. That’s why organizers are calling on everyone to donate to Tangier’s most vulnerable groups.
They’re seeking school supplies for students at Tangier Combined School—Virginia’s last remaining K–12 public school, with about 60 students enrolled. Amazon now delivers to Tangier Island, and the school has a supplies wishlist. Donations can be shipped to Tangier Combined School, PO Box 245, Tangier, VA 23440.
As tourism on the island took a hit this year, a number of families are struggling. Tour boats to the island didn’t resume until June. Jamie Parks, manager of Lorraine’s Seafood Restaurant, open for the last 37 years, says their sales are down about 70 percent. The Holly Run alone usually brings 70-80 customers in one day.
Holly Run is looking to help all island families affected by loss of business. They’re collecting financial donations for help with fuel and oil bills and groceries through a Health and Welfare Fund. Checks can be made payable to Swain Memorial Church and mailed to the church at PO Box 199, Tangier, VA 23440.
Donations of supplies can also be sent to the church for the island’s elderly shut-in population. There is an Amazon wishlist for them, too.
In the last 52 years, the Holly Run has only missed one other holiday season, the year the runway was being repaved. “Rest assured, that once the vaccine has made it out to the island, that we will be rescheduling our fly-out. I also have it on good authority that the Easter Bunny is available to join us should the timing work out for such,” says organizer Helen Woods in an email to pilots.
In the meantime, the big-hearted pilots continue to support the small island community.
-Meg Walburn Viviano