OAKHURST — Christmas was made merrier for dozens of local residents as Madera County Sheriff’s deputies blessed them during their third annual Operation Random Kindness yesterday.
All across the county, deputies handed out Christmas cards with $100 bills tucked inside, courtesy of the amazingly generous employees of Agriland Farming Company, Inc., who donated $5,000 to brighten the holidays for so many.
Some of the unexpected gifts were given out instead of tickets after motorists were pulled over for various infractions, and some residents were visited by deputies who knocked on their doors with a gift of holiday cheer.
Deputy Jack Williamson, who is known to many as the School Resource Officer at Yosemite High School, is now part of the Problem Oriented Policing team and one of the 12 deputies who came in on their days off to lift some spirits – including their own.
Jack was made aware – by folks who shall remain anonymous – of residents who may be in need of a little Christmas cheer this season, or who deserve recognition for their contributions to their community.
His first stop yesterday morning was to the home of Carson and Alicia Shuster. Alicia and Deputy Williamson were in the same EMT class recently. He was very impressed with her dedication and demeanor, and is encouraging her to go on to nursing school or some other field in the medical profession.
With 2-1/2-year-old Paislee and 7-month-old Liam to care for, Alicia has her hands full, but managed to attend classes three nights a week for four months, earning her certificate through classes with Gina Hartley of Minarets Medical Education.
Alicia is studying for the National Registry test to be certified as an EMT, which she hopes to take in February.
Mary’s name was passed on to Jack by someone who knows of the challenges she’s faced as her 5-year-old son Benjamin deals with some major health issues.
As often happens when someone sees a Sheriff’s vehicle pull up, they’re wondering if they’re in trouble for something. Mary is dedicated to helping the homeless in the area, and was concerned that perhaps Jack’s visit had to do with one of those folks, but was thrilled when the reason for his visit was revealed.
“Thank you so much!” she said with a big smile. “This is definitely a blessing.”
Jennifer is a much-loved and appreciated force of nature at the Raymond School. In her job as Learning Director, she wears many hats including facilitating academic interventions, state testing, working with English language learners, heading up the Incentives Program, assisting administrators and helping with the curriculum, meeting with teachers on a weekly basis, and teaching 8th grade math.
“Jennifer could take a job anywhere, and make a lot more money,” says Jack, “but she chooses Raymond School. She does so much for so many people, that we wanted to do something special just for her.”
Jennifer had tears in her eyes when Jack explained why he was there, and though she wanted to be able to thank the anonymous person who had submitted her name, the Secret Santa rules applied.
Recently, Hayden’s appendix burst, prompting a massive infection. He spent nearly three weeks in the hospital in October, during which time he lost over 30 lbs. Amanda had to send her kids to stay with different families so she could be at the hospital with her son. She also missed weeks of income from her job at Denny’s, where she works the graveyard shift.
At first Amanda tried to drive back and forth between the hospital and work, but it just wasn’t sustainable. She is grateful that the manager at Denny’s held her job for her, and grateful for teacher Amy Weigel who sat with Hayden in the hospital when she was free during the October break from school.
She then received a mind-boggling and of course, un-payable bill from the hospital for $949,000.
“It’s hard to be a single parent, and you don’t really realize just how hard it is until one of your kids gets sick,” said Amanda. “Those bills and the missed shifts at work really hit your finances hard. Do I pay PG&E or do I buy groceries? Do I put gas in the car or do I buy diapers?”
When Jack realized that the family’s only source of heat was wood, he returned a short time later with a pickup load of wood, which the older boys helped to unload.
Deputy Bianca Zendejas encountered an elderly couple in the Oak Creek Community in Coarsegold, who had very little food in the house. Lt. Zamudio then took it upon himself to head to the grocery story and load up a cart so that these folks could enjoy a good, healthy meal this Christmas.
Any of these deputies who volunteer their time – and often their own personal money – to bring some extra joy to local families, will tell you that they get more out of it than those who receive their gifts.
“We want to bless someone who is doing something outstanding or who really needs it,” says Jack. “It’s not really about the money; it’s just because it’s the right thing to do.”
Both Sheriff Jay Varney and Commander Tyson Pogue see Operation Random Kindness as a great opportunity to help the community they serve while building better relationships between law enforcement and residents. Doing good police work is dependent upon good relationships.
“This is an opportunity for the deputies and the community to build bridges,” said Cmdr. Pogue, who headed up the project for the third straight year. “There’s so much negative perception of law enforcement, and we often deal with people at their worst moments. This gives us the chance for positive interaction and benefits both the citizens and the deputies.”
Thank you to our outstanding deputies, and to the incredible folks at Agriland Farming, for another year of Operation Random Kindness.
Blessings to everyone this Holiday Season!