(CNN) — A single mom down on her luck was caught shoplifting at a Miami supermarket, but she didn’t get hauled off to jail.
Instead, the officer who responded to the call from the Publix supermarket last month did something that brought the suspect to tears.
Jessica Robles told CNN affiliate WSVN she was desperate and had no money to pay for groceries for her daughter and two young sons. According to Miami-Dade Police, Robles walked out of the store in late September with a cart carrying $300 worth of groceries that she didn’t pay for.
When Officer Vicki Thomas asked Robles why she did it, the young mother said her children were hungry.
Thomas looked at Robles’ criminal history and didn’t find any major charges, WSVN reported. Instead of being taken into custody, Robles was issued a notice to appear in court and charged with a misdemeanor.
When the officer asked if she had food at home, Robles said, “I looked at her in her face, and I told her, ‘Not at all.’”
Robles’ 12-year-old daughter Anais described the family’s dire situation to WSVN.
It’s “not fun,” she said, “to see my brother in the dirt hungry, asking for food, and we have to tell him, ‘There is nothing here.’”
Thomas decided — in addition to telling Robles about food banks, churches and other places she could get food — she was going to help Robles and her family.
“I made the decision to buy her some groceries because arresting her wasn’t going to solve the problem with her children being hungry,” she said.
Thomas went back inside Publix and purchased $100 worth of groceries for the family. She told CNN on Tuesday she used her debit card.
“I have done similar things before, and the people I work with have also done similar things,” said Thomas, a 23-year police veteran.
Seeing Robles’ sons rummaging through the bags was more than reward enough for her act of generosity, Thomas told WSVN.
“To see them go through the bags when we brought them in, it was like Christmas,” she said. “That $100 to me was worth it.”
Robles said the family ran out of money after her boyfriend lost his job and a paperwork issue stopped the federal assistance they had been receiving.
Thomas told Robles she was going to require one favor in return for the free groceries.
“The only thing I asked of her is, when she gets on her feet, that she help someone else out,” the officer said. “And she said she would.”
Since the story came out, Thomas said she hadn’t talked to Robles — though she would like to — but has been “overwhelmed with people thanking me,” including some fellow officers. One man even called police offering to buy groceries for the family, she said.
The officer said she’ ha been most moved by the public gratitude of Anais, whom she did not meet that day.
“Her ‘thank you’ touched me a great deal,” Thomas said. “She was very sincere, and that made it all worthwhile.”
By Justin Lear
CNN’s Joe Sutton contributed to this report.