Midwest Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization serving World War II, Vietnam War and Korean War veterans from South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. The organization takes the heroes on a complimentary trip to Washington, D.C., where they can observe the memorials commemorating their service in the U.S. military.
While the trip is entirely free for the veterans, Midwest Honor Flight would not be possible without considerable fundraising.
Aaron Van Beek, Midwest Honor Flight’s President and CEO, explained how the cost of these trips has increased over the years.
“With our fundraising right now, our flight costs actually went up about 15,000,” said Van Beek. “Our busing and food costs have gone up as well, for even just this fall. And so we’re estimating anywhere from $170 to $175 thousand, and that’s what it’s going to take for each of these three flights this fall now. And so fundraising has always been an important part of our mission, especially for the 700 veterans that are on our waiting list still to this day.”
14-year-old Elsie Van Beek, Aaron Van Beek’s little sister, runs a fundraising campaign called Elsie Honors. Elsie’s goal is to raise $50,000 for Midwest Honor Flight.
“As a young girl, she has been part of every flight that we’ve had,” Van Beek said about his sister.
Elsie expressed interest in serving as a guardian on an Honor Flight, a position which traditionally requires a minimum of 16 years of age. Van Beek responded to Elsie’s request with a challenge.
“I said, ‘Okay, here you go. Here’s the deal. You raise $50,000 to sponsor a flight, and I’ll get you on a flight before you’re 16,'” said Van Beek. “And she took that to heart. And here we are, $30,000 in already out of the $50,000 this first year.”
Elsie sells baked goods and works with Wreaths Across America, dedicating her weekends and summers to serve at events around the Sioux Center area. Every cent Elsie raises goes toward Midwest Honor Flights.
According to Elsie, her family has a long history of service in the military, so the Honor Flight mission hits close to home for her.
“I feel like it’s something that I should do because it’s the least we can do,” said Elsie. “And I just felt like, you know, I should do it because they sacrificed their life for us. So I feel like that I should be doing all that I can for them.”
In addition to raising funds for the flights, Elsie also greets each veteran after their trip— Nearly 900 total since she started.
“It fills my heart with joy, and it makes me happy seeing them come off the flight. And then they’re always very thankful for everything, and it’s very emotional,” said Elsie.
Midwest Honor Flight has three trips planned for the fall, and the organization is currently accepting donations to fund the flights.
For more information, or to make a donation, visit Midwest Honor Flight’s website here.