Often when police approach a person, it’s not a “Merry Christmas” sort of situation. But police departments around the country have started taking some time to play Santa – including in Harrisonburg, as WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz reports.
A year ago Tuesday I was a bit late slipping under a yellow light through a Harrisonburg intersection, and then saw the police officer watching. But I guess my old clunker – which I still haven’t yet donated to WMRA – and the child safety seats in the back must have made me look like a better candidate for Christmas cheer than a ticket, and after pulling me over, the officer gave me a hundred dollar bill.
This year, the police were again out in force on Tuesday, playing Secret Santa, with money that Lieutenant Rob Barnard said came from a private, anonymous donor who wants good relationships between the police and community.
HPD LIEUTENANT ROB BARNARD: It’s kind of usually their worst day in their life, usually, when they call you, so this is the time to change that around a little bit so people can kind of say, “Look, here’s something, we think about you, we have families, and we want your family to have a good Christmas.”
I rode along with Sergeant Ron Howard. He was a Marine in the early nineties, has been with the HPD 17 years, and has young kids, and lives east of town. He was part of Secret Santa last year, too.
SERGEANT RON HOWARD: Now, I’ve got a soft heart. I may come across gruffy, normal day-to-day business, but I’m telling you, the very first one I hit, God almighty. I mean, dude – I’m telling you, it took all I had to get out of there without shedding a tear.
This year he said he was number seven of 10 or so teams sent out with five one-hundred dollar bills each, and he had his eye out for moms with young kids. We didn’t actually pull anyone over, although we did spot an older minivan leaving the Walmart parking lot with what looked like a mom and four children in it, and we trailed it for awhile, waiting for the driver to give cause for a traffic stop, but she didn’t even try to slip through any yellow lights.
HOWARD: “Now Mom, you’ve got the cops following us. It’s that same one from Walmart.” You don’t think that conversation’s taking place?
CLYMER KURTZ: Oh, it’s happening.
HOWARD: Um-hmm. “Does everybody got their seatbelt on? Check it. Johnny, get yours on.” Well, it may not present itself. That’s too bad.
We stopped by a domestic violence shelter, First Step, where the executive director Candy Phillips spoke for the two gift recipients there, to protect their confidentiality.
CANDY PHILLIPS: Oh my gosh, that is incredible. I just saw something really very special, to have someone from the police department to come in and provide some of our moms with some money to help them through this really difficult time in their lives. It’s incredible. So thank you, Officer Howard. I really appreciate it.
Howard’s three other one-hundred dollar bills went to two moms whose young children had just come home from school, and, earlier in the afternoon, to Mandy McCarthy. She has a five-year-old and lives in Broadway, but we found her on a Harrisonburg curb taking a break from her lawn care job cleaning up leaves.
HOWARD: Hi there. You need any help?
MANDY MCCARTHY: Oh no, I’m just taking a break – leaves.
HOWARD: Okay. You got any kids?
MCCARTHY: Yeah, one.
HOWARD: You got a few minutes? I might come around and talk to you just a second. How old is your son, daughter?
MCCARTHY: Son. He’s five.
HOWARD: Well, what if I told you today might be your lucky day, that if we were just stopping by visiting folks? What if I told you we were out here spreading some good cheer for the early holiday season?
HOWARD: And we were giving away a hundred dollars. Do you think you could use a hundred dollars. Huh?
MCCARTHY: Yeah. I prayed for God to give me some money, this morning.
HOWARD: You did?
HOWARD: Well, it’s just your lucky day. I’m going to give you a hundred dollars here, okay?
MCCARTHY: Yeah. I guess you got to understand it all, like, cause I didn’t know how I was going to be able to pay my car insurance, and I’ve only been able to give my son like two presents, so thank you very much.
HOWARD: Not a problem. Merry Christmas. Behave yourself and don’t work too hard, okay?
MCCARTHY: Thank you. Can I actually take a picture?
HOWARD: Yes ma’am, you sure can.
Of course, $100 can’t very well remedy financial hardship, but for the Secret Santa recipients this week, and for me last year, it certainly made for a bright spot in the holiday season.
Plus, it makes for a good story – one that I’m still telling.
MCCARTHY: Thank you so much!
HOWARD: Yes ma’am. Have a good holiday.
MCCARTHY: You, too.