COVINGTON -- Santa wore a deputy's uniform this year and one Covington family had a merrier Christmas because of it.
Charlene Waithe couldn't find words expressive enough to say what was on her heart, but she said she wanted the public to know what the Newton County Sheriff's Office did for her family on Christmas Eve.
"It was beautiful. It was a bad situation that turned into a beautiful situation. I've never had help like that ... you see them help people when they have to, but you don't see them help people when they didn't have to do it," Waithe said as she described the miraculous Christmas that was a gift to her family. "I just want to thank them. A lot of people think all the police department does is write you tickets. You don't think they do something big like this."
Waithe said she and her husband "had a financial confrontation ... and he wound up calling the police."
Two deputies answered the call on Dec. 23 and after discussing the financial crisis that had brought about a family argument, they turned their attention to a glaringly obvious problem in the home.
"One of them asked me, 'Is that all the gifts you have under the Christmas tree?" Waithe said, adding that there was a wrapped pair of earrings for her 16-year-old daughter and three other wrapped toys for her 4-year-old son.
She said one of the deputies asked her if she would be home around 6:30 p.m. Christmas Eve -- the next night -- and she said she would.
"In the meantime, he came back twice that night because he needed my daughter's size and wanted to know what kind of toys my son liked," she said. "He said he would be back tomorrow. Tomorrow came and it was 6:30 and I heard my doorbell ring. When I opened my door, there were like nine police cars."
Waithe said she was astounded to see each deputy exit their cars laden with bags and boxes.
"And it was nothing cheap! My daughter had said she wanted a pair of sneakers and they got the Jordans. They asked her what kind of clothes she liked to wear and they got that -- Abercrombie & Fitch. It wasn't nothing I could afford. It wasn't like it was something from Walmart. It was unbelievable that anything like that could happen nowadays," Waithe exclaimed.
Waithe said she simply couldn't understand how they managed to pull the whole thing off in less than 24 hours.
"The gifts were wrapped beautifully like they took their time to wrap them. How did they wrap all those gifts? How did they go shopping in that time. I have so many questions. It was unbelievable," she exclaimed, still appearing to be stunned at the outpouring of gifts. "It was a wonderful Christmas. They went all out. My Christmas tree was filled, packed."
And, Waithe said there was something else that made the effort so meaningful to her.
"They were all smiling and they wanted to do it. They wanted to be there. You could feel the love and caring. How do you thank somebody for that?" she said.
She said the only way she knew to say thanks was to let the public know how great they were.
"People really need to know that police officers don't just give tickets," she said.
Also, Waithe said the family's financial situation looked to be improving.
"When I thought there was no way of fixing it, they said this can be fixed. I had a really bare Christmas tree and I was fussing because it was bare. It was a bad situation and they turned it into a beautiful situation," Waithe said.
It turned out that the deputies who got the effort rolling were NCSO Deputy Jarrett Allen and Sgt. Kenneth Kent.
"They started talking about it among members of B shift and decided to get together as a group and collect donations and see what they could do," said NCSO spokesman Lt. Keith Crum.
He said they had gone back and asked the 16-year-old daughter, "If you could get anything you wanted for Christmas, what would it be?" and she'd told them she'd like a pair of Air Jordans. A lot of other people had those shoes on their list as well, but at the 11th hour, the deputies were able to get on the Internet and locate a pair for the young lady. She said she'd been wearing the same clothes for three years, so clothes were also on the top of her list.
The 4-year-old brother also needed clothes, but, of course, he had toys on his mind and they found those as well.
"They went over there as a shift and presented the gifts. They said the teenager opened the shoes and started crying," Crum said, adding that the deputies all said they didn't do what they did for attention. "They just saw a need and wanted to help the family out."
The Sheriff's Office as a whole, in conjunction with the Deputies Who Care Fund, assisted 162 families, which consisted of 426 children during the Christmas holidays. Sheriff's Office employees volunteered to deliver the items which were donated during the Toy Run motorcycle ride the first of December as well as items purchased by funds raised by the department. Organizers are hoping to expand the program next year.