- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

HACKLEBURG, Ala. (AP) - For several people in northwest Alabama, Santa Claus wasn’t wearing his typical red suit this year.

He was wearing a police uniform.

Officers with the Hackleburg Police Department ventured out in the soggy, wet weather Tuesday to make random traffic stops, but instead of giving out tickets for traffic violations, they handed out gift cards.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time now, and we finally decided to do it this year after seeing similar events take place in Kansas City, Missouri,” Hackleburg Police Chief Kenny Hallmark said. “They have a businessman who calls himself their ‘Secret Santa’ that gave out thousands of dollars to policemen in Kansas City and told them to give it to people who looked like they needed it. I was able to take up donations from our council, clerk and others so that we could have a similar event here.”

As they stopped people Tuesday afternoon, Assistant Police Chief Jeremy Marbutt said, the reaction from those who received the gift cards was priceless. But he was left almost speechless by the reaction of Bonnie Cayson, of Hamilton, who was on the way to Phil Campbell to take her sister to the doctor.

“They had radioed and said for me to pull over this one vehicle, so I did,” Marbutt said. “The lady in the vehicle could barely talk because she has had throat cancer and has gone through two or three surgeries because of it. When I told her I wasn’t pulling her over to give her a ticket but that I was pulling her over to give her a gift card for Christmas, she was overwhelmed.

“She said this had made her Christmas. If I wasn’t able to give out another gift card, that right there would have made it worth it - just seeing her appreciation and knowing we had made a difference for her. It was a wonderful moment.”

The department collected $1,200 and purchased 50 gift cards. Fifteen of the cards were distributed Tuesday. Any left after Christmas will be given to those in need who come in contact with the department.

Marbutt said, due to the weather, there weren’t as many cars on the road as normal, so Hallmark had gone to some of the houses in town where they knew people could put the gift cards to good use.

“We just want these gift cards to get in the hands of people who need them and who might be able to use them to make Christmas a little bit better than it might have been,” Hallmark said. “Everyone has been very appreciative, and it’s been great to be a part of this.

“I think this is a great thing for us to do because it emphasizes the service part of our motto ‘to protect and serve.’ Some people just need a little extra help, and we were glad to do this for the community. Contrary to what some people think, most law enforcement officers really do care about the communities they serve, and we want the people of Hackleburg to know we care about them and will try to help them whenever we can.”

Other law enforcement agencies in the area have held similar events this week, including the Bear Creek and Florence police departments.

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

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