Ruslan Feinland had plenty of receivers ready when he threw the football Wednesday morning.
State Police who had gathered at Troop L headquarters in Mandeville were more than happy to play a little ball with the Slidell teenager who, along with his siblings, was there to receive some early Christmas presents.
For Ruslan, getting to meet the troopers was just as exciting as getting gifts.
He is one of four boys with special needs whom Rachelle and Stephen Feinland adopted from Ukraine, joining their three biological sons.
Ruslan is fascinated by police officers, his mother said.
The teenager, who has Down syndrome, came to the United States in September 2014, and he’s still working on his English. But he has mastered the thumbs-up sign, which he flashed often as his brothers and three other families turned Troop L headquarters into Christmas central.
The Louisiana State Troopers Association raised money throughout the year for the project and was able to provide gifts for 40 youngsters.
Trooper Dustin Dwight said the final tally came to between $3,000 and $3,500.
Troopers delivered gifts to children at St. Tammany Parish Hospital, Northshore Regional Medical Center and A Place of Our Own, a pediatric day care center, on Tuesday.
The four families that came to the headquarters Wednesday were those troopers had learned about through community contacts.
They met one family when 19-year-old Kenny Hookfin suffered a seizure at Boo Fest and had to be taken to the hospital, his mother, Christina Wilson, said.
Troop L has stayed close to the family since then, Dwight said Wednesday as Kenny delightedly made his younger brother Brandon’s remote-control car zoom around a group of troopers.
The gift-selection process isn’t generic.
“Here’s my list,” Dwight said, pulling out a thick stack of handwritten notes. Troopers make an effort to find out what each child, including the young hospital patients, wants. Each gift has the child’s name on it.
All that meant a last-minute shopping marathon for Dwight and his wife — and a night of wrapping aided by other troopers.
The work paid off when the wrappings came off — and the families of the recipients weren’t the only ones who got into the Christmas spirit.
Greg Rizan, who played Santa for the occasion, said he is trying to deal with a crushing loss, the murder of his 28-year-old daughter in 2013. He came to Troop L in October to ask if he could participate, as he did last year and this year at the Toys for Tots giveaway.
For the Feinlands, the help from Troop L was especially timely. Their youngest adopted son, 5-year-old Andre, is in the hospital with pneumonia, and Rachelle was staying there with him.
That created a time crunch for the family, who tend to be last-minute shoppers, according to Stephen Feinland, who teaches special education at Riverside Elementary School.
That’s a lot of shopping to leave to the last week in December. The Feinlands’ family has more than doubled in size since 2012, when they went to Kiev to adopt 8-year-old Silas, who has cerebral palsy.
Rachelle had seen his picture on a website about Ukraine’s special-needs children, who are institutionalized and not taken home by their families. She felt drawn to him, her husband said.
“At the time, we were looking at (having a total of) four kids,” Stephen Feinland said. Silas was to join their oldest son, D.J. Chaisson, who is now 13, and Tage and Maben Feinland, now 8 and 4.
But they also brought home Andre, who like Ruslan has Down syndrome. And two years later, their family grew again, with 8-year-old Felix, who has cerebral palsy, and Ruslan.
Silas and Andre were not at Troop L headquarters Wednesday, but that didn’t mean they missed out. Silas got his presents when troopers visited A Place of Our Own, where he goes during the day. And Andre got his presents at the hospital. That and a visit from Santa took some of the sting out of being sick on Christmas.
As for the gifts themselves, Dwight said many of the families they helped would not have had much under the tree otherwise. “When they ask for jackets and blankets, you know it’s a family in need,” he said.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.