Santa on Patrol turns stops into holiday cheer in Dearborn Heights

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Dearborn Heights — City police officers switched gears as they made traffic stops Saturday, handing out gift cards in place of tickets during the holiday season.

For the fourth year, Santa on Patrol hit Dearborn Heights as Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities teamed up with Dearborn Heights Police Department and Kroger and Meijer to pass out gift cards to families in need.

Executive Director Wassim Mahfouz said the goal is to bring holiday cheer and "build bridges of understanding between law enforcement agencies and the community as a whole."

"The majority of the families we meet/stop are facing some struggles in their life; whether it's financial, health-related or the loss of a loved one," Mahfouz said. "When they are met with love and compassion, the joy they feel is indescribable."

LAHC Senior Executive Director Wassim Mahfouz, center, of Livonia, gives a $50 Kroger gift card to motorist Samuel Lee as his son, Rami, right, streams the event live of Facebook during a traffic stop by Dearborn Heights Police Cpl. Jeff Ross, left.

The Detroit News rode along with officers Saturday morning, who caught many residents by surprise.

On their way to their sister's home to smoke a turkey, Sam and Maria Ungureanu were followed by Officer Jeff Colon and stopped just as they made it into the driveway.

"I was freaking out thinking 'what did we do wrong?' " Sam Ungureanu, 29, said laughing. "He got me. He was so serious like 'can you step out of the car sir?' But this is great and we're absolutely going to go get some food. My sister has 10 kids so we could really use it."

Dearborn Heights Cpl. Jeff Ross shares a laugh with motorist Nakia Davis, of Detroit, as she gets a $50 Kroger gift card instead of a ticket for not wearing a seat belt.

Colon, who is retiring after 30 years with the police department, said he enjoys spreading cheer the most because "we only see people at their worst. It's always nice to have positive context," he said.

Trina and Brandon Stoxstill from Inkster were also stopped as they entered the Saturn Marketplace with their son Bradon, 8. 

"I thought we parked in the wrong space or something," said Brandon Stoxstill, 45. "She was so scared but this is nice. We've never had anything like this happen before. Very sweet."

Santa on Patrol stopped many people like David Shipp walking from corner stores in the cold weather.

"All I can say is thank you and I'm sorry I was scared," said Shipp, 49. "Police make people nervous."

People took their gloves off to shake Colon's hand and give him a hug to say thank you, which he said, isn't done often enough.

"We gotta change this stigma. Somehow, someway, the next generation has to change it," Colon said. "I thank God for the position I'm in and grateful that we're able to give back when we can because not everyone is in the same position."

The LAHC will pass out more than $5,000 in Kroger and Meijer gift cards this month partnering with police departments in Redford and Dearborn police.

Warning: Graphic language

"It literally embodies what Maya Angelou once said: 'I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel,' " Mahfouz said.

"This event is about making people feel good, loved and appreciated and you cannot put a price tag on this."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_