Holiday with a Hero hosts 239 kids in Carson City | NevadaAppeal.com

Holiday with a Hero hosts 239 kids in Carson City

Jessica Garcia
jgarcia@nevadaappeal.com

It might have seemed like a slight competition between Carson City's Walmart apparel section or the toys department as to which drew more young shoppers Wednesday, but ultimately the hustle and bustle was in toys.

The 15th annual Holiday with a Hero event for Carson City, Douglas, Storey and Lyon County children paired 239 youngsters with officials and military representatives and Walmart representatives to help them pick out Christmas gifts for family members or themselves.

Students from local elementary and middle schools each received $100 gift cards from Walmart produced from local fundraising efforts, and an additional $7,000 was allocated to about 70 high school students in need.

Belinda from Bordewich Elementary and her partner, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kelsea Wuester, admired some girls' clothing for some time.

"I've been doing this for the last five years, and it's something I look forward to every year," Wuester said. "I've met a lot of different kids who come from a lot of different backgrounds who have different stories to tell and they have different people they shop for every year. It's really interesting for me and it's a lot of fun for them."

Students arrived from the various schools by bus early in the day and lined up before entering Walmart. Santa Claus and other various hospital and city administrators dropped in by helicopter and greeted the students, after which the agencies made sure kids and police, fire, forestry division representatives and military officials were paired up and provided carts for shopping.

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Children searched through the store's offerings of games, electronics, clothes, food and various household items to purchase items for family members with $100 gift cards provided to them with the help of their adult partners representing local law enforcement, fire or military agencies. Carts and aisles filled up quickly as adults encouraged the students to pick out what they wanted.

For first-time heroes such as Anil Ratti, a firefighter/paramedic of the Carson City Fire Department, helping Alan of Fremont Elementary School shop for his mother and sister, it was a chance to help families that have a difficult time providing a Christmas for their own, he said.

"We're here to help less fortunate children," he said. "There's nothing better than that."

Ratti walked around and pointed out certain items and willingly made exchanges or trades if Alan found other items of interest he liked better.

"I think he made some awesome choices," Ratti said. "I think I should have made these choices when I was a kid! … He was really happy, and he was good about picking things for his family, too, not just for himself."

Many of the kids' partners double-checked or kept count on their iPhone calculators to make sure they were spending just the right amounts if they were worried about overspending.

At the conclusion of their shopping experience, students went to Walmart's garden center where more volunteers waited to assist with gift wrapping and labeling, ensuring the students went home with their presents bagged and tagged.

Donna Redfern of Western Nevada College helped Cory and Cody of Seeliger Elementary School wrap their gifts just right as they chose their labels and bows. It was Redfern's first time participating.

"It was the best," she said of the experience. "Just seeing these kids that are buying clothes and stuff — if I never get another gift, this would be my best."

Mayala Gonzales, a bailiff at the Carson City District Court, who helped to launch the program with her husband Daniel Gonzales, said it's wonderful to support the local children and to improve the level of trust students have with law enforcement and fire officials.

Gonzales led a meeting with the adults prior to the children arriving at the Walmart to provide some reminders about how the event is to be run, sharing some of the children might be hungry when they arrive and could attempt to purchase food with their gift cards. She said food purchases would be written off. She directed them to ensure the kids selected family-friendly items such as toys, video games or clothes.

Reminding them what the event was about, Gonzales told the group of adults to make sure they loved on the kids as much as they could.

"We want to tell you these children's lives are hard, and that's why we're here," she said. "We cannot control what's going on in their homes. We cannot control what's going on with their parents. … But today, our goal is to love the heck out of these kids. We're not going to hold it against them that their parents are struggling."

She added she previously has been addressed by colleagues in uniform and asked why they should hold an event like "Holiday with a Hero" when parents should be taking care of their children.

"Today, we're going to give (these kids) a great day, we're going to smile and give them some jackets and shoes and we're going to love the heck out of them and send them on their way and wish them a merry Christmas."