Yelm Police Officers were eager to pull over drivers this week, but not for the reasons you may think.
A Yelm couple acting as “Secret Santas” donated $5,000 to the Yelm Police Department to hand out in $100 increments to unsuspecting motorists.
Officers began pulling people over last Thursday, and will distribute money through Christmas day. Officer Don Moody drove through Yelm Monday morning on a mission to make someone’s holiday season a little brighter.
“I have to have a traffic stop, I can’t just stop people inadvertently, even though they won’t say anything if I’m giving them money,” Moody said with a laugh.
He spotted an older-model van and pulled the driver over for not using a turn signal.
He got out and after running her information, informed the driver, Elaine Kirkwood, one of the reasons he pulled her over — failure to use her turn signal. Then he told her the other reason.
“We have a Secret Santa this year, that’s really surprised us all, that just wants to give out some good will and charity to members of the community,” he said. “So we picked you. So what we’d like for you to do is take this $100 and just go do something with your family.”
Kirkwood got out of her car and gave Moody a hug.
“You made my Christmas,” she told him.
“I think we owe our police officers such honor and respect for what they do,” she said afterward. “They put their lives on the line every day.”
She was nervous about being pulled over, but it’s a memory she’ll have for the rest of her life, she said.
Moody was pumped getting back into his patrol car.
“Isn’t that an awesome feeling?” he said. “Couldn’t you just see it in her face? … I think it’s great. It just renews your faith that we do have people in the world that really care, that actually have money and will share it with people like that.”
Moody gave away $200 before Monday. He gave $100 to a woman raising five children.
“She started crying and she’s like, ‘We weren’t going to be able to buy these kids Christmas gifts,’” Moody said. “I try to be all tough and stuff but the reality is, it’s a freakin’ tearjerker.”
The second time, he pulled over a woman whose car had a cracked windshield.
“They kind of freaked out about it. They were like, ‘Man, we heard something about this. This is crazy,’” he said. “They got all excited and jumped out and hugged me and stuff. It just totally went from a negative contact to something totally positive.”
Yelm’s Secret Santas, a local married couple, got the idea after watching “On the Road” with Steve Hartman, a segment on CBS Evening News.
Hartman reported on a Secret Santa in Kansas City, Missouri, who donated money to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department to give out to drivers.
After watching the segment, the idea of doing something in Yelm grew in the couple’s minds.
Speaking to the Nisqually Valley News on Monday on condition of anonymity, the couple said they were touched by the prospect of the police, often perceived as tough and callous, bearing gifts to make people’s holidays brighter.
With law enforcement coming under intense scrutiny in the past year, the Santas were eager to give local police some good news, they said. The assassination of two New York police officers on Saturday reinforced what they’re trying to do.
“What’s happened in New York is awful and anything that we can do to unify the community with our police is to the benefit of everyone,” one of the Santas said.
The goal wasn’t just to make Christmas cheerier for people in the community. It was also to make it happier for the officers.
“That was one of our major things, was to raise the morale of the police during these very challenging times in our country,” the Santa said.
It’s a dark time for law enforcement, but supporters are coming out of the woodwork, said Yelm Police Chief Todd Stancil.
The Secret Santas’ donation helps the public’s perception of local police. But it’s also just a reflection of a couple who’s extremely generous, he said.
“Because of the state of how law enforcement is kind of being perceived and treated at this point across the country … (the Secret Santas) thought it would be a good morale boost for the police department,” Stancil said.
The responses officers have received so far has been overwhelming, Stancil said.
“The stories that the guys have told me have just been awesome,” he said. “Almost everybody cries.”
One officer told him he pulled over a woman heading to renew her car tabs. The tabs on her car were expired and she didn’t have valid insurance. She had just enough money for new tabs.
“Not only did he not give her a ticket for anything, he basically said you’re part of Yelm Secret Santa and you’re going to get $100. And she sat there with her head in her hands and had a hard time recuperating right there in the parking lot,” Stancil said.
Chad Ohelo was driving through town Friday afternoon when an officer flagged him down. He’d just posted the CBS story on Missouri’s Secret Santa earlier in the week on Facebook, but he never thought it would happen to him.
The officer, who he’d interacted with before, explained he was passing out money on behalf of the Secret Santas.
“He gave me $100, ‘Hope this helps you out in this holiday season, I know you’re going through a lot of stuff right now,’” Ohelo said. “I was just flabbergasted. It wasn’t anything overly emotional, I was just like, ‘Wow.’ I thought about that story I posted on Facebook and, ‘Wow, it’s happening to me right now.’ So I was just like, that’s definitely a cool blessing. I appreciated that.”
Ohelo said he’s currently without a job, so the money will allow him to buy Christmas gifts for his parents, and maybe fill his car up with gas.
“It’s just something cool you never think would happen to you — basically winning the lottery,” he said. “Whoever that person (Secret Santa) is, that’s awesome. That’s great that they saw that and wanted to do the same thing.
“It’s been a bad year for law enforcement in general,” he added. “So this is just another good example of the positives that should be brought to light for them helping out.”