Dec. 6. 2013—, 2013 -- If getting home for Christmas is out of financial reach, Peter Shankman may just be your savior.
He's donating 25 round-trip flights for the holidays using his own frequent flier miles and some help from anonymous donors and JetBlue, which heard about his program and decided to donate another 10 flights. He will choose the winners through a contest that ends Sunday.
Shankman, known to most media as the creator of Help a Reporter Out, flies about 250,000 miles a year for book tours and speaking engagements. That translates into a lot of frequent flier miles.
"I live on a plane," he said. "the last thing I want to do over the holidays is travel somewhere."
This is the second year Shankman has donated home for the holidays flights to people who couldn't otherwise afford them. Last year he sent four people home. The program has grown not only through the additional flights but also through extras from companies who want to help. For example, Scottevest will give each winner one of its jackets. GroundLink, a car service company, is donating 10 rides to the airport. MagicJack, the company that lets you make phone calls over your computer, is donating a year-long subscription to all the winners. TripIt will donate a three-month pro package to the winners so they can easily keep track of their flight and travel documents.
Last year's winners included a dad who hadn't seen his son who has Aspergers in six months because of mounting medical bills; a mom whose house burned to the ground and hadn't seen her military son in two years; a daughter who wanted her mom who had recently fallen on hard times and had lost her husband to come visit her and her sisters for Christmas; and a mom who missed her son who had been stationed at Guantanamo Bay as a prison guard.
How does Shankman choose the winners? Turns out, he doesn't.
"I make my assistant do it," he said. "I don't want to be heartbroken." But he does admit he has a special place in his heart for military families.
"I'm a fortunate person to be able to do this. It's the perfect example of how social media can be used for taking a good deed and turning it into something even better."