TRAVERSE CITY — On what may be the worst day of a person’s life, Wings of Mercy gives flight to hope and health.

The inaugural TVC5K Run the Runway on May 18 provides opportunity to put sneakers down on a Cherry Capital Airport runway in support of the organization’s mission: to provide access to medical treatment for patients unable to afford commercial flights.

“The 5K is about building awareness and helping northern Michigan families get where they need to be,” said Steve Melvin, event coordinator and one of Traverse City’s 16 Wings of Mercy volunteer pilots.

Melvin has walked the walk of patients the organization serves having supported a family member through cancer.

“I’ve been in their shoes — driving a kid in the dark to DeVos, sleeping on a cot in the hospital,” Melvin said.

The pilot’s experience inspired the plane owner to help others through traumatic medical events. Melvin is a three-year program veteran and has flown patients from infants to age 80 to medical facilities near and far, including Houston and Boston for treatment unavailable locally.

Michigan native and pilot Peter VandenBosch founded the organization in 1981. It has since flown 8,000 missions. The Zeeland-based Wings of Mercy of West Michigan flies between 225 and 250 low income patients plus a companion to medical facilities each year. About 20 percent of patients are Northwest Michigan residents said Grace Spelde, the program’s managing director.

“Having a person with a serious illness affects your finances, even if you have insurance,” she said.

Every flight requires two experienced, IFR-certified pilots and an approved aircraft. The Wings’ fleet consists of single-engines, multi-engines and business jets owned by pilots, donors or corporations.

Mayo Clinic at Rochester, Minnesota is the most requested destination. Spelde said it’s estimated northwest Michigan patients heading to Mayo save between $500 and $900 per person with a Wings of Mercy flight.

“The event helps us get the word out to more people in Traverse City,” she said.

Wings of Mercy is entirely supported through donations and grants. Proceeds from the 5K support the organization and event partner Goodwill of Northern Michigan. Half of event proceeds will directly benefit Goodwill Inn. The Traverse City emergency shelter provides safe housing for about 85 individuals at any one time, including veterans, families and children. Donations are essential to keeping doors open, said Goodwill Event Manager Sue Vado.

Twenty Goodwill staff members and volunteers will be on hand to carry out event tasks at the race, which begins at 9 a.m. Cherry Capital Airport will close its non-commercial runway for the TCV5K. Commercial flights in and out of Traverse City will not be impacted.

“People are very excited to see how its going to turn out and to be on the runway,” Vado said.

Register online at runsignup.com/Race/MI/TraverseCity/TVC5K. The early registration fee of $32 increases after May 4. The fee for youth 14 and younger is $10. Packet pickup and late registration is at the Traverse City Running Fit store at 300 East Front Street from 4-7 p.m. May 17.