The seventh annual Maine Suitcase Party attracted 700 Camp Sunshine supporters Sept. 21 to the MAC Air Group hangar on the outskirts of the Portland International Jetport, many hoping to be weekend jet-setters.

Two winning pairs of tickets were selected at random for an immediate trip on MAC Air Group’s nine-passenger Gulfstream G200 to New York City for the weekend. And, as usual, another pair of seats went to the highest bidder.

But, with the destination airport – Teterboro in New Jersey – unexpectedly closing early, the grand-prize drawing had to be bumped up an hour, with no time for winners to dillydally.

“If my name got called, I wouldn’t need a suitcase,” joked David Larrabee of Windham, who got a ticket from his employer Hammond Lumber, an event sponsor.

Kyle Churchill, also with Hammond Lumber, described the party as “mind-blowing.” And that was before he and Kristen Krueger of Brunswick won a couple of seats on the private plane, accepting a quick golf cart ride to their vehicle to pick up suitcases for a weekend in Times Square.

The festivities included a drawing for a helicopter ride for two over Portland with a bottle of champagne and chances to win local getaways with limousine transportation that night. Former Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich posed with fans in the elevated VIP lounge, and Lady Red Claws dancers dressed as retro stewardesses sold raffle tickets at the event, which had an air of high-flying glamour.

“This is a great venue for events, but this is the only one we do,” said Alysan Caruso, co-owner of MAC Air Group, pointing out the logistics of coordinating with the TSA and protecting a hangar full of private planes. “It takes a day and a half to get ready.”

The effort paid off, raising a record-breaking $140,000 for Camp Sunshine, a national retreat on Sebago Lake for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. That brings the Suitcase Party’s seven-year total to roughly half a million dollars for the family sponsorship program.

Event attendees Megan and Tim Dermody of Gorham have been to Camp Sunshine multiple times with their son, Finnian, who underwent treatment for a brain tumor seven years ago, and daughter, Shayla.

“We came to camp after treatment, and it filled a big void of support navigating through what was normal and not normal anymore,” Megan Dermody said. “Camp, to me, is true connections with other families. I really like how they treat the whole family – the siblings and parents, as well as the patients – and make it really fun.”

Funds raised through this year’s Maine Suitcase Party will pay for 56 families to attend illness-specific camps.

“Our families are going through real challenges, and Camp Sunshine is one of those rare places where they can go and be with other families who understand and are on the same journey,” said Executive Director Mike Katz, who has been involved with the camp for 34 years. “It’s been amazing seeing it grow from just a few sessions a year to a full-year program, and it’s events like this that support us.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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