’Twas the night before Christmas, and at one Cayucos home, prospects for a merry celebration the next morning were grim.
However, some uniformed stand-in Santas from Cambria changed all that for a financially strapped grandfather and grandson.
To protect their privacy, The Tribune is not publishing the recipients’ names.
Bonnie Anderson, a former neighbor of the cancer-ridden man and his 9-year-old, mildly autistic grandson, believed the two had no gifts under their tiny tree. She called the Cayucos Fire Department on Dec. 24 to see if the county Sheriff’s department might have a bicycle or gifts available for needy children.
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The rehabilitated two-wheelers in the Sheriff’s Christmas Bicycle Program had long since been given out, but a firefighter wrote a note on a pink Post-It anyway, knowing odds were slim that any deputies who could do anything about the situation would see the message.
Then, in a stroke of serendipity about 8:30 p.m. Christmas Eve, two members of the Sheriff’s Department stopped at the fire station. They read the note.
“We gotta do something, dude,” Senior Deputy Todd Steeb told his partner, Deputy Justin Nelson. The pair launched a frenzied, 90-minute gift gathering that eventually included dispatchers, correctional officers and other department staffers.
With the blessing of Watch Commander Jay Donovan, other deputies covered any calls on the Steeb-Nelson beat.
Nelson contacted the County Honor Farm, and Correctional Officer Mark Humphrey found there was indeed one more bicycle and helmet available. It was a boy’s bike.
Correctional Sgt. Michelle Voisenant woke inmates to service the bike immediately, making sure it was in top condition.
Meanwhile, Donovan and dispatchers Teri Cox, Trish Perino, Aften Porras and Candace Burtsfield had pooled donations for toys and were ready for some quality gift-wrapping duties.
Steeb dashed to an open drug store and then back to the department. Soon, dispatchers “were answering calls for service, and in between, it was Santa’s workshop for our elves,” Steeb said. “They were grand, almost in tears” about being able to make the holiday more special for a child.
About 10 p.m., Steeb and Nelson spoke privately to the grandfather, telling him they were delivering a new boy’s Tony Hawk BMX bicycle, a helmet and beautifully wrapped gifts — a radio-controlled car, a Nerf football, other toys and candy — for the boy. The man was overwhelmed.
“It was awesome,” Steeb said.
He and Nelson gave the bicycle and helmet to the saucer-eyed, excited boy. Later, Santa put the gifts under the tree for the grandson to open Christmas morning.
“This was all accomplished in less than two hours,” Donovan said. He lauded the donor team for “the kindness and compassion that I witnessed that night.”
It provided the two deputies with a rare, work-related chance to make someone happy.
“That was pretty powerful,” Steeb said. “You really do feel like Santa.”