Sarah Robinson thought she was going to jail when she was stopped for shoplifting at a Walmart in the small town of Roeland Park, Kansas.
But when police officer Mark Engravalle showed up, it became a day that changed her life, Ms. Robinson told ABC News, leaving her feeling “indebted to him forever.”
As Officer Engravalle was questioning Robinson, a single mother of six young girls, he noticed that the items she’d taken were basic necessities like shoes and diapers, Roeland Park city spokesman John Demoss said to ABC. He looked over and saw that some of the children with her were barefoot and had dirty feet.
“He asked her what the situation was, and she broke down crying,” said Mr. Demoss.
“My heart just dropped. I didn't know what to say or do. It was horrible. I thought I was going to jail," Robinson told ABC.
Robinson, who is unemployed, had been struggling to make ends meet since the passing of her husband three years ago, according to ABC News. She and her family had spent most of their time in their car before all their belongings were stolen.
Not knowing what else to do, Robinson "went to Walmart, grabbed clothes, shoes, diapers, wipes," she told ABC. "And I just walked out, but they caught me."
Officer Engravalle wrote her up with a citation for misdemeanor theft. But instead of making an arrest, he took Robinson back inside the store to buy with his own money the diapers, baby wipes, and clothes her family needed, even letting the girls choose their own shoes.
“Obviously she is going through a tough time," Engravalle told KSHB-TV News. “Walmart might see her as a criminal, but I just saw her as a mom going through a really difficult time.”
It’s a tale of compassion that’s gone viral in the last week, setting off an onslaught of donations so overwhelming that the Roeland Park Police Department was fielding calls for days. They have since set up a bank account for the single mom.
More than 500 calls to the department came in from at least 16 different states, according to The Prairie Village Post. One caller was all the way from Zurich, Switzerland.
Thanks to the thousands of dollars raised in donations, Robinson has said she can finally afford a place for her family to live.
“It shows you that there are still good people in the world, and how great Kansas City is,” Robinson told the Post on Saturday. “I don’t have the words to thank people enough.”