By DON FLETCHER
As former president of Atmore Lions Club, Chuck Brooks was already familiar with and impressed by Pilots for Christ and its humanitarian undertaking. Now that he knows first-hand what the non-profit is all about, his respect has grown by leaps and bounds.
“I knew about the scheduling and donation parts; I just wanted to see [the group carry out its primary mission] for myself,” said Chuck, who recently accompanied the organization’s president on a flight to bring more than a
half-dozen Alabama cancer patients home from Houston, Texas.
“I needed to see it for myself, and I saw it. It was a blessing and an honor.”
The chance to experience the inner workings of Pilots for Christ came after the local Lions Club donated the proceeds of its annual spaghetti dinner to the altruistic group for the second successive year.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful cause, and I’m glad we voted to do that,” said Chuck, who is also Atmore’s police chief. “Ashley Pharr (Ministry Partner Relations Coordinator for the medical transport charity) came up,
and we presented the check to her. The next day, she called and asked if I wanted to be co-pilot for an afternoon flight to Houston.”
The city’s top cop, who underwent triple bypass surgery several months ago, was awed by the experience and gained a better understanding of what cancer patients go through.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “It was just a flat-out honor to even go. That is such a wonderful organization that helps people through some of the most difficult times of their lives, and your heart goes out to the
patients. My triple bypass was a life-changing experience, but it’s nothing compared to cancer and the things those patients have to battle.
“I have a lot of close, personal friends who were patients who were flown to Houston. When a cancer patient has to go to Houston, it’s very serious, very scary.”
Chuck joined Tommy Lee, president of the Monroeville chapter of Pilots for Christ, in the cockpit of “Papa Charlie,” the group’s 1984 Beechcraft C90A. He said that experience was also awe-inspiring.
“Mr. Tommy flies every day, sometimes more than once,” Chuck said. “He loves to fly that plane, and he’s good. He had already flown that morning and had come back, and he was going back again. He is over 70 years
old, and he is so passionate about flying that aircraft for these people who are sick. He is an angel on earth, so I flew with an angel that day.”
Chuck also got to see how much respect the Pilots for Christ flights get from Houston’s air traffic controllers.
“When he gives his call sign, the controllers tell (all other pilots) to hang on, they’re going to let Papa Charlie come on in,” Chuck said. “It’s just a phenomenon. I can’t explain or describe it enough to make you feel what I felt
in that cockpit, listening to all this.”
Pilots for Christ, which also flies pastors, missionaries and veterans and assists with disaster relief efforts by delivering medical and humanitarian supplies, doesn’t charge the patients anything, although the cost of each
round trip is roughly $17,000. The non-profit also doesn’t conduct fund-raisers, accept governmental funds or file for insurance reimbursements.
“Transportation out there and back takes a tremendous burden off the patients, and it doesn’t cost them a nickel,” Chuck said. “They are completely financed by donations. The money comes in, and people even leave land to
Pilots for Christ serves families in a 350-mile radius and makes trips throughout Alabama as well as to Houston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington. The Monroeville organization is one of 22 Pilots for Christ
programs nationwide. It is also the largest and most active chapter in the country. Those who might want to donate, or those who might need the organization’s services, can keep up with the organization’s flights and patients by visiting the PilotsforChrist Facebook page or website, pilotsforchrist.net.
Tax-deductible donations may be mailed to Pilots for Christ, P.O. Box 707, Monroeville, AL 36461.
Chuck said he hopes people who read of his experience will open their hearts and their pocketbooks to the organization.
“Pilots for Christ will always have a special place in my heart because of the good they do,” he said. “I hope this reaches a lot of people, and I hope they can feel a little bit of what I felt. If you’re having a fund-raiser, and
you need a cause, I strongly recommend that group.”
Being a part of the trip gave him a whole different perspective on the organization. He said it was “an eye-opening experience, a flat-out miracle.”
There was only one part of the trip Chuck had no desire to be a part of.
“When we started to leave, Mr. Tommy asked me if I wanted to take off or land (the plane),” he recalled. “I told him that as long as he promised me he wouldn’t ever be chief of police, I promised him I wouldn’t ever
pilot this plane.”