In December 2016 Melissa Whittington, a mother from North Port, Florida, had a rather unusual trip to the grocery store. All she did was take her stepson, Phillip, to Walmart. But the story of their outing has since gone viral.
It was a warm and sunny day just before Christmas 2016 in Florida when Whittington arrived at the store. And while she didn’t notice immediately, there was an elderly man standing on the sidewalk. His name was Bill Greenham.
Greenham is 89 years old and had served his country in World War II. Now quite frail, the veteran needs a cane to keep his balance. Still, on that sunny December day in Florida he had, it seemed, been doing some grocery shopping of his own.
As Whittington and her stepson approached the store, Greenham’s shopping bags suddenly ripped, and his groceries tumbled across the sidewalk. He obviously needed help gathering them up again, but would any kind person stop to help?
In an instant, Whittington rushed over to help the elderly man pick up his shopping. Then, after she and her stepson made sure Greenham was all right, the three shoppers ended up having a short conversation.
It transpired that it was little Phillip’s ninth birthday that day. However, Whittington admitted to Greenham that she hadn’t been able to buy Phillip any presents this year. Instead, they had his broken glasses fixed.
Of course, Greenham wished the boy a happy birthday. But it’s what he said next that blew Whittington away. First of all, he said, “I want to do something for you.” Whittington protested, but Greenham insisted. “What would you like for the little boy?” he said.
Why was this kind man offering to buy something for her stepson? All they’d done was stop to help him pick up his shopping. The truth behind Greenham’s generous offer was about to be revealed.
You see, Greenham hadn’t accidentally dropped his groceries at all. No, he had done it on purpose to see who would come to his aid. But what Whittington didn’t know at this point was that there was a whole team of people involved in this ruse.
Greenham was actually a volunteer who was working for the North Port Police Department. Officers had planted cameras in the Walmart parking lot and were watching the whole thing unfold from inside a police car nearby.
What happened after Greenham offered to get something for little Phillip was so heartwarming to watch that the video of the incident went viral. And Whittington never saw it coming.
Having told Greenham that it had been a tough year for the family, Whittington broke down in tears. Greenham hugged her, and he told her that everything would be okay. The viral video of the story then cuts to people running frantically around inside Walmart with wrapping paper.
Next, people holding presents emerge from the store. They approach Phillip and hand him a giant present, saying, “This is for him.” The officers had given Phillip a birthday present after all: a brand new scooter. It certainly was an emotional moment for Whittington.
But who were these kind people giving out presents? It turns out that they were North Port Police Department’s “Santa’s elves.” And what was this random act of kindness all about? It was, in fact, an initiative called “Operation Santa Surprise.”
The North Port Police Department had decided to do something for the community for Christmas that year. So officers set up the ruse using veteran Greenham in order to reward those kind enough to stop and help the frail man.
“We want to show not just only what North Port police officers are doing but really show that police officers as a whole care,” police spokesman Josh Taylor told WFLA.com. So instead of penalizing people for doing things wrong, they rewarded people for being kind.
In the end, the North Port Police Department gave gifts to 15 different families that day. And its initiative to spread Christmas cheer didn’t stop there either. On another occasion, police gave people gifts instead of tickets during normal traffic stops.
“To have cops come out and not give you a ticket or pull you over, they are always there to help you. They are always there to help you and I think it shows the kids as they grow up these officers are here to help you,” Whittington told Fox News. She couldn’t believe the generosity the officers showed her stepson.
“I’m shocked. I’m amazed that people are so generous at this time of year,” Whittington told WFLA.com. The officers’ kindness was in fact intended to create a “ripple effect” of continued good deeds, according to one police representative.
Birthday boy Phillip seemed to understand the message behind the police department’s initiative perfectly. He said, “Well… it wouldn’t be a Merry Christmas if you weren’t nice to people.”