Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 25, 2012

As the rain pelted the ground outdoors and the sound of “Ho, ho ho!” floated through the air, Patrick Widenhouse limped outside to see who was there.
It was none other than three Landis Police officers bringing toys and good cheer.
The officers — Brandon Linn, Capt. Roger Hosey and Cpl. Jeff Tilley — played Santa on Christmas Eve, delivering presents to families throughout the south Rowan area. Hosey’s wife, Carrie, also helped deliver presents.
Widenhouse and his family sat inside their cozy little home on Everhart Avenue awaiting their arrival.
“I knew they were there to serve and protect, but I didn’t know it went further than that,” Widenhouse said.
He has been out of work for some time and is also recovering from a 20-foot fall from a tree.
His children, a 3-year-old son and two daughters ages 4 years and 7 months, would’ve gotten very little, he said, if the officers had not delivered toys.
His neighbor gave him a gift card and he was able to get the children two small presents apiece.
“That would’ve been all they would’ve gotten,” he said.
This is the third year the officers in the Christmas Cops program have collected toys from the community, adopted local families and distributed the gifts. On Monday, the officers delivered food and gifts to eight families throughout the early evening.
Widenhouse, who lives with girlfriend Ashley Moore, said he didn’t know how he would’ve explained to his children that Santa wouldn’t be visiting them this year.
Since being laid off from his construction job, Widenhouse had been working odd jobs his landlord found for him. His most recent job was cutting tree limbs at a house just across the street. On Oct. 7, he fell from a tree when a limb broke and his ladder toppled over.
Widenhouse fell 20 feet to the ground. He screamed out in pain, and neighbors rushed to his side, he recalled.
Doctors told him he crushed his heel bone and later discovered a break in the top part of his foot. The fall meant he couldn’t work odd jobs.
Although Moore had reservations about him climbing the tree, Widenhouse said, it meant he would have a little money for his family.
Moore has been unable to work because she has to care for Widenhouse and their infant daughter, Lilly. Widenhouse just became able to put a little weight on his foot, but he’s always in pain, he said.
That was eased a little on Monday when the officers delivered a large box filled with toys and gifts, along with several bags of food.
“I’m so thankful from the bottom of my heart,” Moore said.
The presents weren’t the only kind gift the family received this holiday. Earlier this month, the couple received a Christmas tree from a stranger while shopping at Walmart.
Moore’s mother had scheduled a photo session at the store for the couple’s daughter, Lilly.
Before the picture Moore and Widenhouse decided to walk around the store to kill some time. Moore asked Widenhouse about getting a Christmas tree for the holidays. Widenhouse said he’d rather “buy baby formula than spend money on a tree.”
An older man who was mesmerized by Lilly’s big brown eyes suddenly said he wanted her to have a tree.
The couple tried to refuse, but the man told them Lilly should have a tree.
Moore said she didn’t know the man nor did she get his name, but wished she did.
“I would have written him a thank you card or a note,” she said.
Atop the 7-foot-tall tree sat a unique ornament, a framed picture of Lilly, along with stockings from the older children.
After their initial deliveries, the officers donated presents and food to five more families they found through Carrie Hosey.
Linn, a school resource officer at South Rowan High who spearheaded the holiday program, estimates they distributed 300 toys.
“It’s always a blessing to be on the side of giving and most of all seeing the parents’ and the kids’ faces light up,” he said.
He said the officers visited homes with Christmas trees but no presents underneath.
It’s humbling, he said.
“You see how blessed you are, and you could be in their shoes,” Linn said.
He’s appreciative of the community’s support of the annual program and their donations.
“Without all of the drop-off areas, we would never be able to assist the families,” Linn said.
Area businesses provided drop-off locations for the toy collection.
Linn’s only regret is that those who give aren’t able to see the reaction from the families who receive.
Hosey and his wife Carrie made specific holiday plans to be in town for the deliveries.
“I’ve helped in the past, but this is the first year distributing the presents,” Roger said.
Hosey said he’s grateful for the opportunity.
“It’s good to help. It gives us an opportunity to have a more positive interaction with the community,” he said.

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.