Blue Santas: McAlester police officers help locals for Christmas
A woman's Christmas gift money was stolen and a man's presents for his children were taken from under the tree — but local officers stepped in to deliver a happier holiday.
McAlester Police Department Officer Jonathan O’Dell said he wanted to help after Rachael Eldridge reported her debit card was taken and used without her permission. The woman told O'Dell whoever used the card spent all the money she planned to use on Christmas gifts for her children.
"I had just gotten paid and that money was to buy my kids Christmas," Eldridge said. "I was also disgusted that people could do these types of things this time of year without even thinking about it."
O'Dell said he felt compelled to do something.
“At that point, as a servant to the community and as a Christian, I decided that I should intervene in some way,” O’Dell said. “I’m a cop, I don’t make that much money, but I had enough to be able to give those kids something.”
He said after he obtained permission from Eldridge, he bought presents for her two children.
“I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes or anything, but I felt like it was necessary to kind of give back to these kids that really wasn’t going to be able to have a Christmas," O'Dell said.
The officer said he woke up the next day to numerous notifications on social media after the woman posted about the officer’s generosity.
O'Dell said it was a humbling experience and that he didn’t do it for the recognition.
“I just wanted to give to those kids," O'Dell said.
The woman said O'Dell is an outstanding officer for helping her over the holidays.
"I've not really lived a life by the law until a few years ago," said Eldridge. "This was the first time I've dealt with the law on the good side of it and it opened my eyes for what it means to be a cop.
"It kind of gave me a new sense of self-worth, regardless of where you come from or what you've done in life, if you got good intentions, good things will happen," Eldridge added. "My children were blessed with a very good Christmas."
O'Dell also helped MPD officers after a single father of three sons reported a burglary where “the thief took all of the presents from under the tree”on Christmas Day, Deputy Police Chief Darrell Miller said.
Miller said Officer Chuck Sutterfield organized a collection between other officers and dispatchers to replace the stolen gifts in time for them to celebrate the holiday.
“The father had no presents to give to his three boys that was supposed to arrive that evening for Christmas,” Miller said.
Sutterfield said after he took the report, he reached out to other officers and dispatchers that were working for some help to replace the stolen gifts. "It was a team effort," Sutterfield said.
The officers started purchasing replacement gifts at Walgreens, where Miller said officers received more donations from citizens who overheard what they were doing.
Officers then spoke with Walmart manager Cody Knight, who opened up the store just for the officers to shop for the replacement gifts. Miller said Knight also made a donation to help the cause.
“We were able to raise a significant amount of money,” said O’Dell, who was on-duty Christmas night. “Enough to pretty much replace everything that was stolen from that house as far as the Christmas presents.
“The whole community kind of came together and it was really nice to see that as opposed to what we're used to seeing on a daily basis,” said O’Dell.
Miller said he was also made aware of another officer who helped a family on his own.
Officer Nick Mattioda bought some gifts for a family in need of some Christmas gifts, Miller said.
Samantha Padgett, who's four boys received the gifts, didn't really know what to say about Mattioda's generosity.
"He's an amazing officer and person," Padgett said.
The deputy chief said he was proud of his officers and the department.
“I am very proud of our department and especially these officers for stepping forward and providing a Christmas to some that probably would not have one if it wasn’t for them,” Miller said.
“It’s an honor to work around people with this much compassion,” he added.