If you’ve felt inundated by tragic news headlines these past few months (heck, make that the past year), here’s a heartwarming story that might just restore your faith in humanity. Last month, Police Officer Matt Lima answered a fairly routine call at a Stop & Shop in Somerset, Massachussets, where two women were accused of shoplifting at the self-checkout register. But when Lima arrived, he decided not to put the women in handcuffs for their alleged crime — instead, the police officer graciously paid for their groceries and wished them both a Merry Christmas.

The incident happened on December 20

In a statement issued by the Somerset Police Department, Officer Lima had been alerted that a shoplift was in progress at the Stop & Shop store at 815 Grand Army Highway, and immediately sped over to the location.

Once there, Lima spoke to a Stop & Shop asset protection associate, who claimed that he’d observed two female suspects, both shopping with two young children, as they went through the self-checkout kiosks. But while scanning their groceries, he noticed that they failed to scan several of the items before placing them into their shopping bags and attempting to exit the store.

The store associate immediately intervened

The two women were stopped before leaving the parking lot, and after printing and reviewing their receipts, the clerk confirmed that several items found in their bags had not been paid for.

Both women were then asked to wait inside the store until Somerset PD could arrive on the scene, which is when Officer Lima began to question them. But if he was expecting them to double down and declare that it was all a big mistake, the officer would soon be proven wrong.

Both women broke down almost immediately

During the emotional exchange, the women reportedly explained that they’d fallen on hard times this year, and that their reason for not paying for the additional groceries was simple: They couldn’t afford them.

Their only intent was to make a nice Christmas dinner for the two young children they were with, and meant no harm by what they’d done.

The officer was immediately touched by their story

After all, the women are far from alone. Millions of Americans have fallen on hard times this year, as the current unemployment rates clearly show.

According to a December 7 report by the Congressional Research Service, the pandemic has had a significant impact on unemployment rates in every single state, industry, and major demographic group in the United States. It spiked to an all-time high of 14.7% in April 2020 — a number that had not ever been seen since the government first began reporting jobs data back in 1948. As of November, it had declined to 6.7%, but that rate is still considered alarmingly high.

As a result, food insecurity has risen

In October, it was estimated that roughly 54 million Americans faced food insecurity because of the pandemic. And according to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States, 18 million of them were children.

However, it’s important to note that food insecurity has always been a big problem in the U.S. Even before the pandemic hit, 1 in 4 Americans struggled to get their next meal — a reality that certainly shouldn’t be forgotten once life returns to “normal.”

As the economy still grapples to recover, it’s likely that even more families will begin to face these challenges in the coming year ahead.

But there was also another reason Officer Lima was moved to help

Quite simply, he could see himself in their story.

“I have two girls myself, similar in age to the two girls who were there, so it kind of struck me a little bit,” Lima later told WJAR.

While he spoke to the two women about their struggles, the store associate kept the two little girls occupied, so they wouldn’t hear the extent of their mothers’ troubles.

“The woman I talked to, she explained she was working, but the mother of the children was not working and had some other family issues going on and that what she had taken was Christmas dinner for the kids,” Lima relayed.

Lima could see the women were telling the truth

After reviewing their receipt, it was clear that they had only taken food.

“There was nothing else on there like health and beauty items, shampoo, anything like that,” the officer shared. “It was all food.”

He then asked a store employee where the other items were that the women had been accused of stealing, and was told that they’d all been returned to the store shelves.

Thinking about things further, Lima couldn’t ignore the heartbreaking predicament that the women had found themselves in — especially at the holidays.

“Obviously, this family was in need, and I can’t imagine having to make the decision to go to Stop & Shop and just only pay for what I can afford — or do I go there and try to take things for Christmas dinner for the kids?” Lima continued.

And so, he decided to do the right thing

Lima didn’t treat the women gruffly, or slap them both in handcuffs and haul them off to the police station. He did serve them with a notice not to trespass, but discussed the matter with the store associate, who ultimately chose not to press charges.

Then, using his own money, Lima decided to purchase $250 in Stop & Shop gift cards and present them to the women. That way, he figured, they could purchase the extra groceries they needed at another Stop & Shop location and still have the Christmas dinner they’d been hoping for.

In the end, the children would be none the wiser.

The kind gesture meant more than he expected

“They were very thankful, they were kind of shocked,” Officer Lima later shared of the women’s response. “I’m sure a lot of people in that same situation would be thinking that there was going to be a different outcome, and maybe they would be arrested or have to go to court.”

Now that the December 20 has started to make headlines, plenty of other people have been touched by the kind gesture, too.

“That was a selfless & admirable thing to do, kudos to the officer,” one person tweeted.

“Thank you for your humanity!” added another, who applauded Officer Lima.

“Compassion creates better communication,” tweeted someone else. “What this officer did will be remembered and shared with others who know the family. All it took was having some empathy and knowing that you could be walking in their shoes.”

Still, some people did feel compelled to point out that the very nature of the story highlights a harsh but glaring truth: Far too many families are facing this reality on a daily basis in America, and it only seems to be getting worse.

“In a civilized country they wouldn’t have had to steal food and the officer wouldn’t have had to pay for it,” one person tweeted. “This isn’t a feel-good story, this is a national indictment.”

“The real story is that America has sunk to such a low during this pandemic that these women feel they had to resort to this action,” tweeted another person, who added that “a feel-good story about one cop in no way negates the horrific economy” we are currently trying to crawl our way out of.

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