Donations help loved ones visit wounded servicemembers during recovery

PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. — The charity Luke’s Wings helps family and friends of wounded service members fly to their bedsides during their recovery — and this year, donations were made to the group in the names of Atlantic City’s public safety departments.

Outgoing Atlantic City Public Safety Director Willie Glass and his wife have been making donations at Christmastime every year for 15 years, Glass said. This year and in 2012, he said, they have made private donations to the Washington, D.C.-based Luke’s Wings in their name and also in the names of the Atlantic City Beach Patrol, firefighters union, PBA, Office of Emergency Management and 911 communications.

“We’re not really interested in any notoriety,” Glass said. “All the charities we’ve donated to in the past, we’ve donated to privately. That’s not why we do it.”

The Glasses research charities to make sure “that the money you give goes to charity as opposed to administrative costs,” Glass said.

Luke’s Wings was co-founded in 2008 by Fletcher Gill, who was inspired by Walter Reed Medical Center wounded warrior Luke Shirley, who lost his arm to an explosive device overseas, and Washington cheerleader ambassador Sarah Wingfield, who met Shirley in 2007.

“She told us his story, and we were inspired by that,” said Gill. “We started a nonprofit and named it after them, Luke and Wingfield. ... Luke had his mom with him as his nonmedical attendant. Most assume that wounded warriors have a whole staff and nurses, but they’ve actually got one nonmedical attendant, usually a wife, fiancee or mother. They basically walked away from (family) units back home, took the one government-provided flight and pretty much stay there. And it has a huge rippling effect on the family unit.”

They realized that traveling back and forth from home to their loved one’s bedside at Walter Reed would become “an economic impossibility,” Gill said.

So starting in 2008, “From now on, if you’re a wounded warrior and you want your family with you, you’ll get plane tickets from us. That takes out a big line-item expense, and it’s great because the moms can go home, sleep in their own bed. ... and a lot of times the wounded warriors will say, ‘My mom’s been here six months, please send her home!’ Or they say, ‘Please send my best friend from high school’ or ‘my girlfriend’ or ‘my brother.’ So we set up rotation plans.”

So far, Gill said, the group has raised almost $3 million toward travel expenses for 1,200 wounded warrior families, Texas veteran families and veterans in hospice care, including 1,500 airline tickets.

“In many cases, they were home for Christmas morning,” Gill said.


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