Nevada Highway Patrol troopers bring cheer to hospitalized children and the homeless — VIDEO

About 80 youths who are stuck in area hospitals were gifted with some holiday cheer from the Nevada Highway Patrol on Wednesday.

A squad of Highway Patrol troopers — one dressed as Santa Claus — visited local children’s hospitals to distribute gift bags.

And the day wasn’t just about the kids. Troopers visited the homeless later in the afternoon near the Las Vegas Rescue Mission to hand out blankets.

“It’s my favorite event of the year,” trooper Chelsea Stuenkel, a Highway Patrol spokeswoman, said.

Stuenkel said community events such as this are often a welcome respite for law enforcement officers who regularly grapple with danger and tragedy.

“The kids just get so excited when they see him,” she said of the trooper donning his gay apparel Wednesday morning in a room near the University Medical Center trauma unit entrance.

“It brings them a little bit of cheer. At least for the day.”

The Highway Patrol launched the Trooper Santa event in 1998. The gifts — this year it was a toy highway patrol vehicle and a stuffed animal — are bought with money contributed by the troopers. Stuenkel said 16 officers gave $250 straight from their paychecks.

Trooper Santa and his entourage began in the playroom at the Children’s Hospital of Nevada at UMC. A girl and her family erupted in giggles as Santa entered; Nathan, a 3-year-old in a hospital bed, beamed. Even Jesus and Gustavo, cool teenagers that they are, cracked smiles.

The hospital requested that the youths’ last names be withheld for privacy reasons.

After UMC, Trooper Santa and his helpers visited children in the pediatric units at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center and St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus.

As the sun began to set, troopers gathered near the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, 480 W. Bonanza Road, to hand out about 200 fleece blankets.

Tina Marquez, 54, was thrilled to receive a blanket because it was her birthday. She said she recently lost her housing, but looks forward to getting back on her feet when she gets paid next month.

She and her mother loved Christmas when she was growing up, especially for the bright, festive lighting.

“Holidays are a special time of the year,” she said. “People get grouchy this time of year, but I treat everybody the way I want to be treated.”

Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0391. Follow @WesJuhl on Twitter.

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