It’s the most hopeful of sayings: “Behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining.” Who would know it better than the women who work in the clouds? Back in 1954, a group of retired Eastern Airline stewardesses came together in New York City and decided they could create a few silver-linings for some needy children. While Eastern Airlines may be gone, the former flight attendants and the Silverliner Organization is still helping children around the world after six decades, even in the Keys.

Former Eastern flight attendants Joyce Benavides, president, and Bindy Blatt, vice president, run the local chapter of the Silverliners and host the annual national event “Flight To the North Pole” at the Key West Airport. The Silverliner event started in the ’50s to help children with special needs, providing them a special “fantasy flight” at an airport and Christmas presents. Now in its 37th year, the Key West event – scheduled for Dec. 5 – involves hundreds of children ages 3-5 and provides a great day of special holiday events and gifts for local kids.

“It’s up to 650 kids,” said Benavides “This is the biggest event for kids from Big Pine to Key West.” The Silverliners invite schools to come to EYW to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus (now in memory of Mo and Marina Mosher, who infamously played those roles for years until their passing), the Fire Department, the Animal Farm, the Sheriff’s Department, the Mounted Police and the Coast Guard. There are games, activities, a puppet show and lunch, donated by The Conch Flyer. The day ends with a hopping sing along with Howard Livingston and a spot on Santa’s lap. It’s a magical day for the kids at the airport and they get to leave with a present. But fair warning – this event is not open to the public and parents are only invited as chaperones with the class.

“We raise about $10,000 to $12,000 all year long to put on the event,” said Blatt, who personally oversees shopping for all the toys. “Fantasy Flight is our big hurrah but really we think about the kids all year.” The Key West Silverliners never take off their elf hats, quietly providing for many local children with various needs. The organization has sponsored five classrooms, bought iPads for learning, and caps and gowns for high schoolers who couldn’t afford them. If a child has a special request, they try to help.

“Every buck adds up and goes back to the children of Key West,” said Blatt, who credits the many locals who help the Silverliners: MJ Webster, Letisia Powell, Denise Rohrer, Mary Maxwell, Rita Rogers, Jane Brannigan, Howard and Cindy Livingston and teachers Kelli Niles, Amy Donaldson and Catherine Kanagy, and all of Santa’s helpers.

The Key West Silverliners Chapter with volunteer Chrissy Gallagher, left, Bindy Blatt and Joyce Benavides are ready kick off the Christmas season . HAYS BLINCKMANN/Keys Weekly

To donate to the Silverliners, contact Joyce Benavides at 305-797-1500.

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