By Kaden Pradhan
London, United Kingdom
Sandy Hughes was browsing the Walmart Neighborhood Market when she was approached by Oceanside PD Constable TJ Dunn, who asked: “So, how much money do you plan to spend today?”
“More than I want!” she replied, amused. Hughes had just been compelled to move out because of a rent hike.
“I’ll give you $100 cash,” said Dunn, handing over an envelope.
“Oh my God!!” she exclaimed, amazed.
This is just one of the myriad stories emerging from Oceanside, CA, over the past few months. The local police department has launched a new Random Acts of Kindness initiative, aimed at spreading a little kindness throughout the city. Officers hand out money to citizens in need, with a different focus every few weeks.
The project began as the Secret Santa Operation in December 2021, before being rapidly expanded thanks to a $20,000 donation from the Fortin family, residents of Oceanside, that allowed the RAK initiative to grow into a year-long scheme.
“The more opportunities that we have to engage with people outside of crisis situations I think deepen relationships and deepen understanding,” noted Police Chief Fred Armijo [sic]. Wayne Fortin, the principal donator, added: “My family and I enthusiastically support the Oceanside Police Department Acts of Kindness Project. We can think of no better way for us to provide acts of kindness to Oceanside residents than by partnering with Oceanside police officers who are on the front lines and encounter those who need kindness and a helping hand on a regular basis.”
Every month, officers are instructed to hone in on a particular area. In February, for example, the Department helped those who had recently been victims of theft by replacing items that were stolen. In March, due to rapidly rising gasoline prices, they handed out cash to help drivers to pay for their fuel. In April, officers reached out to grocery stores across the city to help residents pay for their weekly shop … including Ms. Hughes.
“A lot of the time when people call the police, it’s not in the best of circumstances,” said Jennifer Atenza, a spokesperson for the Department. “It’s when something bad has happened, there’s an emergency, there’s a trauma. So it gives us the opportunity to bond in positive circumstances.”
“When gas prices skyrocketed, it became an obvious choice to go out and help people at gas pumps,” she added. For Officer Andy Gularte, the program represents another tenet of the principle ‘to protect and serve’: “It's a cool experience to get out in the community and make people smile and serve in a different way,” he said.
Officers will continue to distribute the money for the rest of the year-long program, and perhaps even beyond then if the donation lasts.