• 77°

The hunt for Christmas: Wildlife officer helps a little girl and her dad

SALISBURY — A year ago, a follow-up investigation into some illegal hunting led state Wildlife Officer Sgt. Tony Sharum to an eastern Rowan County mobile home.

His official knock on the door would be the start of an amazing friendship.

Sharum talked to the home’s renter, a man in his early 30s, who acknowledged under questioning he had been hunting for deer without a license.

During his visit, Sharum noticed the trailer had hardly any furniture — a table, some broken chairs and an old couch. In his enforcement of wildlife laws, Sharum hears a lot of excuses from hunters and fishermen, but when this man said he had been hunting deer for food, he believed him.

Still, Sharum had no choice but to write out a citation, which amounted to a $215 fine with court costs.

“He was a pretty humble fellow,” Sharum says. “It was evident he was having a real hard time of it. You could see the despair in his eyes.”

A 9-year-old girl appeared from the back of the mobile while Sharum was there. On top of everything else, the man was a single father with sole custody of his daughter.

Transplants from Tennessee, the man and his daughter had hoped he would find a job in Rowan County, where they had extended family, but it didn’t work out. They depended on deer and what they could buy with a small amount of food stamps.

As he was leaving, Sharum asked whether the man would be interested in a deer, in case Sharum’s duties led him to one that could be dressed and used for food.

“I got him a deer and brought it to him,” Sharum says. “He was real excited about that, and thankful.”

Sharum talked more with the hunter and asked him what his prospects for Christmas were, as far as providing some gifts for the little girl.

Sharum noticed he had some material spread out on his table. The father said he was trying to make some craft items to sell in hopes he could buy his daughter a few presents at a dollar store.

As the man became comfortable with Sharum, he talked more about his circumstances. Sharum learned that the girl was sleeping on a cot, and he was sleeping on the couch.

They had one beat-up kerosene heater for the whole trailer. The girl had only a pair of jeans for school.

Christmas was coming fast, and Sharum couldn’t put the little girl out of his mind. A wildlife officer in Rowan County for 21 years, Sharum knows a lot of people in law enforcement.

He started reaching out to those officer friends, seeing if they could find some furniture for the mobile home and a few gifts for the girl.

Sharum also waged a Facebook campaign on behalf of the small family. In the weeks leading to Christmas, he noticed his number of Facebook friends increase by several hundred.

Every day, people contacted Sharum to donate furniture, money and clothing. He might be pumping gas, and a stranger would ask whether he was the wildlife officer trying to help the 9-year-old. Then he would squeeze a $20 bill into Sharum’s hand.

As soon as Sharum reported that the girl needed a bicycle, a couple called him, met Sharum at Walmart and purchased one.

A businessman, hearing the father was hunting deer to feed his daughter, paid for the man’s hunting license.

Several people donated new kerosene heaters, and Sharum took some of the donated money and pre-paid for kerosene at a nearby convenience store for the rest of the winter.

He also pre-paid the trailer’s electric bills and put aside money to buy fuel and repairs for the hunter’s pickup.

Whenever furniture was donated, Sharum transported it to the trailer immediately. Both the man and his daughter ended up with fully furnished bedrooms, a pull-out couch, love seat, a new kitchen table and chairs, a microwave, coffee maker, televisions and DVD players.

People also contributed food and almost $1,200 in cash and gift cards.

The staff at Johnny’s restaurant in Rockwell made and delivered a Christmas Eve dinner for the father and daughter. It included two turkeys and all the trimmings.

Sharum dubbed his efforts to provide some Christmas gifts for the little girl as “Operation Secret Santa.” Many people delivered gifts — wrapped and unwrapped — and they included some shirts, socks and toiletries for the father.

The gifts filled the entire bed of Sharum’s Ford F-150 and the cab space inside, except for the driver’s seat.

On Christmas morning, Sharum and Thomas Rufty Patterson arrived at the trailer at sunrise, hauled the gifts into the living room and stayed long enough to see the girl unwrap all the presents and even ride her new bicycle down the street.

“That was pretty cool,” says Sharum, who had to work Christmas Day. “I’m sure she won’t forget that Christmas. Needless to say, there was plenty of grinning going on.”

Sharum figures at least 100 people became involved in Operation Secret Santa, with gifts coming from several different states, including California. One even came from a soldier in Afghanistan.

As an update, the father now has a job in a local store. He and his daughter still have some struggles, but they’re looking for a place with better living conditions, Sharum says.

“He’s a good fella,” adds Sharum, the father of two middle-schoolers. “Sometimes folks need a little helping hand. He didn’t ask for any help at all, and he took responsibility for what he had done. … I had to pry it out of him what he needed.”

This past week, Sharum attended a luncheon in Raleigh with Gov. Bev Perdue at the Governor’s Mansion. He was there with 14 others to receive the 2012 Governor’s Award for Excellence for Outstanding Service.

The award recognizes state employees who exhibit service and initiative far above the normal requirements of their job.

It’s the highest honor a state employee can receive.

But Sharum will tell you, the honor for him came in helping a father and his little girl.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

Comments

Comments closed.

Ask Us

Ask Us: What happened to work on South Fulton Street home?

Crime

Blotter: Woman says she was shot in hand on Lincolnton Road

Crime

Rowan Sheriff’s Office charges Salisbury man with operating illegal gambling business

Crime

Blotter: Rockwell man arrested on felony drug, breaking and entering charges

Local

Rep. Amber Baker discusses legislative session during Rowan Democrats breakfast meeting

Local

Thousands of locals, out-of-towners gather for a groovy time at annual Hippie Fest

News

N.C. Zoo ready for expansion if lawmakers OK funding

Education

RSS budgeting for tens of millions in federal COVID-19 relief funding

East Spencer

‘Back in full swing’ for the spring: East Spencer community gathers for food, fun and fellowship at Spring Fest

Local

Rowan native Lingle among those honored with NC Military Veterans Hall of Fame induction

Business

Former pro baseball player, Tar Heel standout Russ Adams finds new career with Trident Insured

Education

Profoundly gifted: Salisbury boy finishing high school, associates degree at 12

Local

Cheerwine Festival will stick to Main Street, stay away from new park in September

Lifestyle

Celebrating Rowan County’s early cabinetmakers

Education

Service Above Self announces youth challenge winners

Business

Economic Development Commission creates search tool for people seeking Rowan County jobs

Columns

Amy-Lynn Albertson: Arts and Ag Farm Tour set for June 5

High School

High school baseball: Mustangs top Falcons on strength of hurlers

Business

Biz Roundup: Application process now open for Rowan Chamber’s 29th Leadership Rowan class

Sports

Keith Mitchell leads McIlroy, Woodland by 2 at Quail Hollow

Nation/World

States scale back vaccine orders as interest in shots wanes

Nation/World

Major US pipeline halts operations after ransomware attack

News

NC budget dance slowed as GOP leaders differ on bottom line

News

Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting