Police officers in Escondido have been spreading holiday cheer by giving $100 bills to deserving locals – part of a program made possible through a generous gift from an anonymous donor known simply as “Secret Santa.”
Recently, an anonymous donor gave $10,000 to the Escondido Charitable Foundation along with just one request: that EPD officers hand out the cash to those down on their luck in an effort to help make the season brighter.
According to the police department, the donor recruited officers as “elves” because they regularly come into contact with the public, many times with residents who have fallen on hard times or who have experienced tragedy.
The Secret Santa also expressed an interest in helping the department forge positive interactions with the community it serves, police said.
To that end, for the past two weeks, Escondido police officers have been given new $100 bills and told to look out for residents who seem in need of a little extra help.
Officers approach those residents, explain the Secret Santa program, and hand them the money, much to the surprise and delight of the recipient.
On Wednesday, EPD Officer Mario Sainz handed out the last two $100 bills, as NBC 7 accompanied him on his good deed.
Sainz said he’s thrilled to be given the chance to partake in the program, and gives thanks to the unnamed donor from the bottom of his heart.
“He or she – whoever this person is – is making a tremendous difference with our relationships between law enforcement and the public. We want to continue to give where we can and build those memories and trust with the community,” Sainz told NBC 7.
On Wednesday, Sainz was able to give $100 to Escondido resident Maria Ordonez. As the officer approached Ordonez’s car and explained the Secret Santa program, Ordonez was speechless.
Sainz handed her the $100 bill, and Ordonez smiled with glee.
“I’m really grateful,” she told NBC 7. “With this money, I’m going to buy gifts for my family. We’re going to have a Merry Christmas. We’re really thankful. I’m so happy.”
After that encounter, Sainz approached resident Sarah Iglesias, a mother walking with her three children, and did the same for her.
Again, shock, followed by pure joy.
“I think it’s amazing. I’m a single mom, three kids. It’s Christmastime. It’s hard to get things when you’re trying to do everything on your own without any help,” Iglesias told NBC 7, bill in hand.
The mother was very grateful to the donor who made this possible for the police department to carry out.
“This is very – whoever this is – thank you. This is a very sweet gesture and this is going to go very far, especially for my kids, with Christmas in just two days,” the mother added.
Sainz said that earlier in the program, he was also able to give $100 to another resident whom he felt was deserving – a man trying to make ends meet for his family by delivering packages door-to-door for his wife’s mail order business.
“It was a wonderful experience to bring cheer to his family – an excellent opportunity,” Sainz said, recounting that encounter.
The EPD said other memorable Secret Santa giveaways this season include the time Officer Joseph Putulowski stopped a woman for a broken tail light on East Valley Parkway.
Putulowski noticed the woman’s back seat was filled with empty bottles and cans, which she planned to take to a recycling center with her two sons, both of whom have autism. The woman told the officer she planned to use the recycling money to buy presents for her sons. Putulowski gave the mother $100 to help put some gifts under the tree for the boys.
“This was such a rewarding experience for me,” said Officer Putulowski. “It was a privilege to be able to be the messenger for an incredibly generous person during this holiday season.”
Another time, EPD Officer John Mougier met a man and his six small children at a local church to hand him $200 after learning from their pastor that the father was struggling to provide even the basics for his family.
During another Secret Santa moment, EPD Officer Shannon Martin remembered an 82-year-old retired priest whose car was stolen earlier this year outside his home. Martin visited the retired priest, this time with a $100 bill to give him.
“It was great to find a sincere and genuine person who had been victimized by thieves and be able to brighten his day,” said Martin. “This man served his community for more than 50 years, giving his heart and soul to his congregation and never expecting anything in return. The $100 bill I was able to give to him meant the world to him, and made me proud to serve my city as a peace officer.”
Also recently, Lt. Allen Owens brought a $100 bill to the parents of an Escondido boy struggling with an unknown neurological disorder that requires very expensive medical treatments.
In addition to the cash, the officer also gave the boy and his brother, both big “Star Wars” fans, life-size model toys of Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper. The kids squealed as Owens unveiled their gifts.
The police department said many of the officers who participated in the Secret Santa program said they got as much out of the experience as the residents who received the bills.
A video of some of those aforementioned Secret Santa encounters can be seen on the EPD’s Facebook page.