South Sound 911 elves save Christmas for Tacoma family

A group of Pierce County 911 dispatchers helping keep the public safe Wednesday also helped save Christmas for one Tacoma family.

A man called police in the afternoon Christmas Eve, frantic, saying that he had accidentally thrown away his six grandchildren’s presents, South Sound 911 supervisor Barbara Matson said.

He had been watching the grandkids, and doing some housework, when he took out the recycling bin, where it turned out his daughter had hidden the gifts, knowing the kids wouldn’t look there.

Dispatchers tried to see if there was a chance of recovering the gifts.

“The news was bad, that everything is crushed immediately and shipped off site,” Matson said.

Retired and low-income, the man had no way to replace the presents.

“This really bothered most everybody who works here,” Matson said about the agency, which dispatches for multiple Pierce County law enforcement agencies. “The employees approached me and said: ‘What can we do?’ ”

They got the ages of the kids from mom: between 6 months and 14 years old. Then the crew took up a collection in the office, and a couple headed to the store. An officer who heard what they were doing met the shoppers and donated some more. About $450 was collected among about 16 people, enough for six gifts per kid.

But their timeline was short. And the lines at the stores long.

The businesses and off-duty officers working there helped make those lines a bit quicker for the South Sound 911 elves.

“I think one store even loaned us an employee to help shop,” Matson said.

When the gifts made it back to the communications office, it was time to wrap. Fast and furiously.

Each work area was assigned one child to wrap presents for.

To keep emergency communications running during the operation, dispatchers gave up lunches to cover for each other, which meant the Christmas surprise didn’t reduce staffing.

“Technically I suppose we shouldn’t have done it,” Matson said. “But we did.”

By about 10:30 p.m., a couple of employees took the gifts to the house, where they were met by a pair of officers to hand over the presents.

Their timing was exceptional. It turns out it also was the mother’s birthday.

The two-year-old boy of the family took a liking to both of the officers, as the kids helped carry in the presents, and didn’t want to leave their arms when it was time to say goodbye, Matson said.

“It was frantic,” Matson said of the Christmas Eve shift. “It was something we felt we had to do.”

The South Sound 911 crew enjoyed it probably even more than the family, she said.

“We don’t get to see the positive side of things very often, and we rarely ever get to see the end result of something,” Matson said. “It was really good for them all.”