By Robert Noles
On a dark, rainy Wednesday afternoon, just two days before Christmas, Opelika Police Chief John McEachern gathered six officers for a special detail, giving them special instructions. They were to find 24 individuals who looked like they could use a little extra help for Christmas and give them a $100 bill in a Merry Christmas money envelope. This “work” should be done over the next two days. Each officer was given four envelopes to give out.
An anonymous donor had given the Opelika Police Department $2,400 in new $100 bills to be distributed in Opelika by the OPD to help local individuals to have a merry Christmas and, coincidentally, to create some good will for OPD. This was the second year in a row that this same anonymous donor had given this sum of money.
Opelika Observer photographer Robert Noles was able to ride along with Officer Damion Barry on his “mission” last Wednesday afternoon. They pulled into Walmart Shopping Center as the rain was coming down hard and very few people were coming out or going into the store. After driving around the parking lot for a while looking for someone, a lady with children stickers across her rear window was spotted.
The blue lights came on and she pulled into a parking place and waited for the officer to approach the car. Her face was one of “what did I do?” Barry told her she had done nothing wrong and the Opelika Police Department and an unknown donor wanted to give her $100 and wished her “Merry Christmas.” Before you could bat an eye, Samantha Mothershied was out of her car hugging the officer.
With tears in her eyes, she explained that not only was the next day her birthday but this had made Christmas for her five children. As we got back in the police unit, we both were taken with such a great, joyful, feeling over what had just happened. Officer Barry said it almost gave him tears. It was like hitting a home run the first time up to bat.
As the afternoon went on a little profiling was involved. The donor wanted local people to receive the money so cars with out-of-state or out-of-county tags were eliminated. It was not an easy job finding those that looked obviously deserving. Actually it was hard work.
Another person getting out of her car with her two-year-old received an envelope. Then Tiffany, with her one-year-old child got the next $100. Almost in tears, Tiffany said it sure helped make Christmas for her 10 kids.
The last one of Barry’s envelopes was also a surprise to Yvonne Smith as she thought he had approached her about the lack of a tag on her car. As he was trying to tell her about the gift, she was trying to to explain that she had her license plate but had not put it on because of the rain. Barry explained that it was Christmas and he was there to give her $100 from the Police Department. When she saw the money she gave Barry a big hug and wished the officer a merry Christmas.
The rain was still coming down and the wet but happy officer headed back to the police department to finish up his 12-hour shift. Barry was obviously touched by the people he had brought happiness to. He said it made him feel good about himself and being part of the Opelika Police Department with the opportunity to carry out this assignment.