Basin Electric employee helps Pilots for Kids bring holiday cheer to those in need

Crew members for Sanford Airmed, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and Steven Schaffner, Basin Electric pilot.

A Basin Electric employee helped bring excitement, wonder, and the magic of Christmas to children who had to spend the holiday in the hospital. 

As a part of the Pilots for Kids program, Basin Electric Pilot Steven Schaffner helped Santa and Mrs. Claus trade in their sleigh and reindeer for a helicopter ride to bring gifts to kids at Bismarck, North Dakota, hospitals on Dec. 20. 

The Pilots for Kids program is an international, nonprofit organization that was started in 1983 by a group of airline crewmembers to help address the needs of hospitalized children. The primary activity is to visit and distribute toys to children in hospitals, shelters, orphanages, and other facilities with disadvantaged children. Crewmembers raise donations and 100% of those funds go directly to the children. In addition to toys, wheelchairs, hospital beds, and other special equipment has been purchased as part of the program. 

Schaffner heard about the program in 2018 when he was an airline pilot for Delta Connection. Each year, Pilots for Kids holds an event where Delta provides an aircraft and crew to transport 100 children on a "North Pole" flight from one part of the terminal to the other. When he learned about the program, he felt Bismarck needed a location, so he helped establish the Bismarck chapter and serves as its coordinator. 

In December 2019, after establishing a relationship with Bismarck hospitals and Sanford Airmed, Schaffner and his team delivered the first round of presents to the hospitals, which usually amounts to 25-30 children. “We are fortunate to receive support from Sanford Airmed and the use of its helicopter to deliver presents directly to the hospitals in Bismarck. We are the only location that has an aircraft and a Santa Claus to deliver presents to the children,” Schaffner says.  

In 2021, the program received an outpouring of gifts from a local mom who organized her own toy drive, which allowed crewmembers to expand their services across the entire state. Every hospitalized child in Minot, Grand Forks, Fargo, and Bismarck received a present, including a first-time visit to schools in Fort Yates who otherwise would likely not have seen Santa during Christmas. 

Schaffner says the most challenging part of his role is funding the purchase of the presents. Each location is entirely self-supported through volunteers and their own funding. “Our funding comes from the yearly dues paid by each pilot. With Bismarck being one of the smallest locations in the network, we don’t have many pilots to help contribute to that aspect of the program,” he says. 

That’s where Basin Electric stepped in to help. Concern for community is one of the seven cooperative principles, and each year Basin Electric’s charitable giving committee reviews and disperses funds to charities in the membership’s nine-state service territory. In 2022, a donation was made to the Pilots for Kids program. Schaffner says without that donation, it would have become a personal expense to ensure every hospitalized child received a gift. 

Schaffner says despite planning the event during his military deployment, the program was able to reach over 400 children, which was more than most of the major cities in the Pilots for Kids network. 

Schaffner says what sets this group apart is visiting the children and personally handing out presents to each one. “Getting to spend a few moments talking to each child and their family is part of the human connection and that’s important,” he says. 

For more information on the Pilots for Kids program or to make a donation, visit

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