FRANKLIN COUNTY, KS – On Tuesday, Franklin County deputies teamed up with community members to conduct a covert surprise to help a mother of two boys.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office received several calls from concerned drivers who noticed the same woman walking along 59 Highway between Princeton and Ottawa, KS.
Christine Wheeler was often walking to her job at a Love’s Travel Stop or to the grocery store. “My friends would give me rides but I hated asking them,” Wheeler said. “I felt like I was inconveniencing them.” So, she’d walk.
“She would walk six miles to work to earn money to take care of her two children,” Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jesse Vega said. “Then she’d walk back home.”
Franklin County Deputy Evan Macklin answered a few calls to check on Wheeler. He offered to give her a ride and learned about her current situation. Then he met with the other deputies on his shift to make a plan. “Is there someone we can do for her?” Franklin County Deputy Aaron Miller recalled Macklin asking their patrol team.
The deputies say their first few ideas could be described as small. “Everybody wanted to do something. We just needed a place to start,” Franklin County Deputy Tera Brooks said. “Once it got started, it just kept going.”
After generous community members including several deputies, the Cunningham Family, John and Erin Coffman, Bill Crowley, Napa Auto Parts, T & W Sanitation and Ripples of Change joined the effort, the deputies reached out to Wheeler’s manager at the Love’s Travel Stop in Ottawa to devise a surprise. “They said she was very deserving of something like this and she was a great employee,” Sgt. Vega said.
On Tuesday as Wheeler worked, they asked her to step outside. “He said, ‘Hey so I need to talk to you,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Oh gosh am I in trouble?’”
Instead the group of people who wanted to offer her a little help were gathered around a donated van in the parking lot.
The deputies and community members surprised Wheeler with the donated van, two new car seats, a Price Chopper gift card, the registration for the van and the first year of car insurance along with $200.
In cell phone video that recorded the surprise, Wheeler said, “Oh my God I love it! There is even stuff in there for the kids.” The surprise included several toys for her three-year-old twin boys.
“This means the world to me. It means everything to me,” Wheeler said. “This means I can get my kids out of the house. I can grocery shop.”
The deputies took notice that even though they meant to surprise Wheeler she was only focused on what the vehicle could do for her kids. “I can take them to the park!” Wheeler shouted.
“She said it was the best Christmas she’s ever had,” Miller said.
Franklin County Sheriff, Jeff Richards wrote a message to the community that said in part, “I am very proud of the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office. This is not just something they did, this shows who they are. I am proud of who they are! This is an example of their commitment to serve our community. Sgt. Jesse Vega and his patrol team saw a need and worked to fill it.”
“She was going to keep walking to work and making it happen,” Franklin County Deputy Briley Rivers said. “So, it was just nice to be a part of helping her out.”