Though she may not look or dress like a traditional Santa Claus, Marne Hoyer is every bit as festive and giving as jolly old Saint Nick himself. "It's definitely my favorite time of year," she tells us. "I look forward to this day all year long."
Hoyer isn't talking about Christmas Day, however. Instead the child life specialist at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus is talking about a day that has become a cherished tradition for her and the pediatric patients at Mayo Clinic Children's Center. It's the day Hoyer and others make merry with thousands of brightly colored helium-filled balloons that light up the faces of pediatric patients.
The annual showing of goodwill, love and support for Mayo Clinic's youngest patients has become affectionately known as the Balloon Brigade. And as Hoyer tells us, it wouldn't be possible without the good people of southeastern Minnesota and local grocer Hy-Vee. "Hy-Vee reached out to us three years ago to say they'd like to start providing balloons to our pediatric patients over the holidays," Hoyer says "to recognize that not everyone can be home for the holidays. It also gives community members an opportunity to spread joy to our smallest patients who are fighting big fights that don't stop during the holidays."
Community members are given that opportunity, Hoyer tells us, during three weeks in December in which shoppers can make a donation to the brigade at the checkout line. "Each donation then becomes a balloon that gets delivered to pediatric patients throughout Mayo Clinic, Ronald McDonald House and Hope Lodge," Hoyer says.
Patients like Gabriel Carranza, who KIMT 3 News reports is currently battling leukemia. "As a mom it's a bit overwhelming," Gabriel's mom, Andrea Carranza, tells the station of the 3,000-plus balloons that were delivered to Gabriel and other pediatric patients during this year's brigade. (Which, we're told, also included a surprise visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.) "I kind of felt teary eyed about it," she says. "It's just really awesome to see somebody want to give so much to the kids and help them have a better holiday."
And as Hoyer tells us, aside from the smiles and the shrieks of joy from the kids, that's the best part. "Just knowing this is all driven by our local community each year really means a lot to patients and their families," she says. "It's great awareness for our young patients here at Mayo Clinic and for the fact that our local community members can have a direct impact in their care in ways such as this."
You can watch this year's Balloon Brigade here. Then spread some holiday cheer by sharing your comments below before using the social media tools to share this story with others.