In his more than 17 years as the founder of Wings Flights of Hope, Joe DeMarco had seen his fair share of inspirational stories. However, one story really stands out. A few years ago, DeMarco was tasked with the responsibility of flying a young boy from Allentown to Cleveland in order to receive a special kind of cancer treatment he couldn’t get at home. Now, as a 20-year-old, the same young boy that Joe had flown all those years ago, still refers to DeMarco as “his pilot” whenever he has to fly him to get more cancer treatment. This story is just one of the many people whom Joe DeMarco has helped throughout his 17-year career as the founder and one of the pilots of the Wings Flights of Hope program based in Buffalo.
The primary purpose of the Wings Flights of Hope (WFH) program is to transport elderly or sick people to places where they can receive health care that they cannot receive in their local areas. The majority of WFH sponsored flights are based out of Buffalo, and the program flies to major cities mostly in the Northeast such as New York City, Cleveland, and Boston, among others.
“One of the most positive impacts of starting Wings Flights of Hope is seeing the impact I can have on people’s lives,” DeMarco said. “Working with elderly people and working with people with medical issues makes me realize that the problems in my life are insignificant compared to what my clients go through.”
When DeMarco started WFH in 2004, he was working full-time for DeMarco Masonry in Rochester, another company that he had founded. Although he was working a good job, DeMarco had been interested in flying since he was a child and had even received a flying license. However, he had decided to give it up to get married and raise a family.
The moment that made DeMarco decide to leave the masonry business and go back into flying was when he bought his own small airplane. After that, he started looking for ways to put his plane to good use. Helping fly sick or elderly people to receive urgent medical care was the perfect fit. “After the business was up and running for a couple of years, I started to see how grateful people were,” DeMarco said. “I didn’t notice this when I first started flying, but once I noticed…it really changed my perspective on the work that I do.”
Along with flying sick and elderly people, DeMarco also created a program called Wings Flights for Troops. This program, just like WFH, flies troops to receive life-saving care. Additionally, DeMarco provides flights called “Compassion Flights,” which allows wounded soldiers to travel to be with loved ones during their time of need. “Being able to help out our troops is very rewarding for me,” DeMarco said. “One time, I had to take some troops down to the McGuire VA Hospital in Virginia. Seeing some of those troops, especially those in the burn unit, really makes the troubles in your life seem pretty small.”
Like almost everything else in the past year and a half, WFH was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. There was a four-month period where Wings could not fly anyone, and after they were allowed to fly again, passengers had to obtain a negative Covid test in order to fly. “Luckily for us, Covid didn’t have too much of a negative impact for our company,” DeMarco said. “The hardest part was not being able to fly for that four-month period. It pains to me to think of all the people who couldn’t get the health care they needed because we weren’t able to fly them to it.”
One way that DeMarco has been able to pick up clients is through speaking engagements. After speaking at the LeRoy Moose Club on one occasion, DeMarco was able to take a couple of Moose Club members on flights to get critical health care. “That’s pretty impressive, especially considering I only showed them a PowerPoint and described what we do,” DeMarco said.
One of the most unique aspects of WFH is that they are funded entirely by donations; the people who fly with them don’t have to pay a dime. All the flights given are free.
“If you have any questions about our service, just visit our website,” DeMarco said. “We have a long list of testimonials from people who have flown with us, and I think that should be convincing for anyone considering us.”
For more information about Wings Flights of Hope, or more information on how to donate, go to www.wingsflight.org.