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OCEANSIDE, Calif. – Oceanside police were seen stepping up traffic stops Wednesday in the heat of the holiday season. But they weren’t exactly looking for criminals.

The department recently received a $2,000 donation from their secret Santa, the nonprofit Trauma Intervention Programs Inc. to give away $100 gifts to drivers rather than tickets. It effectively gave officers a special mission this week to search for 20 unsuspecting people to spread a little holiday cheer.

Oceanside police Chief Fred Armijo said officers were targeting those who could use it most, some who otherwise would not have a Christmas. It was the first time the department has done such an operation.

“The more opportunities that we have to engage with people outside of those sort of crisis situations I think deepen relationships and deepen understanding,” Armijo said.

Wayne Fortin, the founder of Trauma Intervention Programs, said the primary motivation of the donation was to “really help people in the community who could use the financial boost.”

“We’re donating $2,000 and the police, we think, are the perfect carriers of this donation,” Fortin said.

Many were shocked. Their nervousness turned to smiles and tears by officers who went from capturing criminals to capturing hearts.

“Because there was no more Christmas,” Amanda Glasgow said, gesturing to her backseat. “She can now get a gift because her gift to go to the desert. … You just saved our Christmas because we’re quarantining until the new year. Thank you. God bless you.”