Photo: Mike Marra/

Pilots Gear up for Tangier Island “Holly Run”

It’s one of the Chesapeake Bay’s unique holiday traditions: every December for the past 50 years, a group of volunteer pilots fly Christmas greenery, gifts, and needed supplies from Kent Island to remote Tangier Island.

This Saturday, nearly-50 pilots will gather at Chesapeake Sport Pilot Flight School in Stevensville and make the 45-minute flight to the island on Virginia’s lower Eastern Shore.

They’ll bring school supplies like Kleenex, paint and markers to the Tangier Combined School– Virginia’s last remaining K-12 public school, with about 60 students enrolled.

Even boughs of holly are a welcome sight, as the low-lying island has little greenery growing on it to decorate with, and the mainland is a cold boat ride away.

Eastern shore pilot Ed Nabb, Sr. started delivering holiday greens to the island in 1967, and his son, Ed Nabb, Jr. picked up the torch, growing the rally to dozens of planes. And this year, Santa Claus himself will fly down to Tangier in his own RV-7A, one of the models from homebuilt aircraft kit manufacturer Vans Aircraft.

In addition to the special delivieres, the Holly Run raises money for the island’s “health and welfare fund” (which pays for heating oil and groceries) and its “mission fund” (which helps repair roofs and build handicapped ramps for the island’s elderly).

Last year, Bay Bulletin‘s Cheryl Costello hopped aboard a Cessna to join the Holly Run. Watch her video here.

The event last year raised $12,000 for the island’s two funds, both of which are administered by Swain Memorial Methodist Church. Holly Run organizer Helen Woods says she was “amazed at just how far that money went from last year.”

“The church lay leader and choir director took us on close to a four-hour tour of the island stopping at home after home that sported a new, non-leaking roof, or a handicap ramp,” Woods continues.

Church teams from other places visit Tangier in the summer and donate the labor for needed projects, so that all of the Holly Run funds go towards building materials, and the money stretches further.

Woods says there is more work to be done: “The islanders experienced multiple record high tides this year, damging many homes. Young people continue to move off the island looking for work, leaving an aging population to largely fend for itself.”

If you’d like to donate to the Tangier Island Holly Run, organizers ask that you send a check to :

Swain Memorial Church
PO BOX 199
16152 Main St, Tangier, VA 23440

And you should indicate in the memo whether you’d like to donate to the “Health and Welfare Fund” or “Mission Fund.”

A group of pilots have offered to match funds raised once they reach $3,000.

Meg Walburn Viviano