When Gabriella Ripley-Phipps was pulled over by Madera County Sheriff’s Deputy Darrell Swengel last week, for broken tail lights and a missing headlight, she thought a ticket was sure to follow.
“I freaked out a little bit,” Ripley-Phipps said, while visiting her family for the holidays from Santa Cruz. “I mean, I’m right in my dad’s driveway. Oh no - I was so close to being safe.”
Instead, after stopped at her father’s house in Yosemite Lakes Park, she was shocked to find Swengel handing her a $100 bill, not a ticket, and wishing her happy holidays.
“I feel complex about the police as an institution,” Ripley-Phipps said, promising to use the money to fix her vehicle’s lights after hugging Swengel. “Now I feel touched. This is a little more like, yes, holiday spirit, more belief in the world.”
Through an anonymous $5,000 donation by a Madera farming company, sheriff’s deputies of all ranks went out Dec. 23 to pass out the money, either through traffic stops or house calls.
Called “Operation Random Kindness,” they spent time both in the Valley and Mountain Area, handing out the donated dollars to grateful residents, several suggested by churches, nonprofit organizations, or employees in the sheriff’s office.
Penny Cole of Raymond also had a non-working headlight and taillight when she saw the bright, flashing lights of a sheriff’s patrol vehicle in her rear-view window after turning onto Highway 41 from Crane Valley Road (426). Behind the wheel was recently retired Deputy Roy Broomfield.
Standing on the sidewalk outside her car, Broomfield explained to Cole why she was puled over, but instead of giving her a fix-it ticket, he handed her a $100 bill and wished her a Merry Christmas.
Her initial shock was followed by a big hug for Broomfield.
Evergreen High School teacher Amy Weigel, a single mother with five children, made a quick dash to the school to retrieve a Christmas present she had hidden there. Needless to say she was a little apprehensive when she pulled up to the house with her oldest daughter, and saw the sheriff’s vehicle.
Broomfield greeted her with a wave and a big smile.
“I worked with Roy for 13 years at Yosemite High School, and when I saw his face I knew he was not at my house for anything bad,” Weigel said.
Broomfield told Weigel he was in the neighboorhood and just wanted to check in on her and the children.
“I do want to give you a little Christmas joy,” Broomfield said as he handed her $200. Another big hug followed.
“Hopefully this money will help everyone,” Broomfield said. “This is a joy to do, and it was a very positive thing for the sheriff’s department to be able to meet people this way and help them.”
“I was so thrilled to receive the money,” Weigel said. “Every bit helps this time of year, and it was lovely to get the money from Roy.”
The joy was spread throughout the Mountain Area, including Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Yosemite Lakes Park, North Fork, and Ahwahnee, among other communities.
“I am so impressed,” said Aurora Bianca Reali, a Romanian immigrant living in Yosemite Lakes Park. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
Reali took political asylum in Germany after fleeing the Romanian Revolution of 1989, once lived in a homeless shelter and is currently in a “huge rollercoaster ride” with a cancer diagnosis.
Though she said she’d spend some of the money on food for herself and her two sons, she wanted to help others as well despite any adversity in her life.
“My heart goes out to the children,” Reali said. “If I could I would build them an orphanage, or a school. I will do everything I can to help, and this reminds me to do so.”
Sheriff Jay Varney said that mentality was his hope behind the kind acts, as well as improving the relationship between law enforcement and the public.
“The holidays come upon us so fast and go so fast we often stay focused on ourselves,” Varney said. “But this is a great time to take a moment to reach out to people who are in worse shape than you are, and give them a hand. You never know how much of an impact it will have on their lives.”
Lt. Tyson Pogue organized “Operation Random Kindness,” and those handing out money in the Mountain Area included Swengel, Broomfield, Sgt. Jacob Tallmon, and Deputy Miguel Hernandez.