Instead of arresting her for shoplifting, the officer bought her a carton of eggs and made her promise not to steal again.
Helen Johnson was stunned when she saw two truckloads of groceries being delivered to her doorstep. Within moments, her small apartment in Tarrant, Alabama, filled up with enough food to feed her family for weeks. "The last time I saw my house this full, I was 12-years-old and staying with my grandmother,'' the 47-year-old mother and grandmother told AL.com. "I've been crying all day." The special delivery was a hope-restoring moment for Johnson as just days before, she'd been caught stealing eggs from a Dollar General out of desperation to feed her hungry family.
At the time of the 2014 incident, Johnson was living with her two daughters, a niece, and two grandchildren, who were aged 1 and 3. Although the kids' mother gets a welfare check of $120 every month, it had gotten lost in the mail that month, leaving the family waiting for Johnson's disability check, which was also yet to arrive. Having gone two days without food, Johnson decided to go to Dollar General on Pinson Valley Parkway with the $1.25 she had left in the hopes that it would be enough to buy a carton of eggs. However, at the store, she realized she was 50 cents plus tax short, and out of sheer desperation, stuffed five eggs in her pocket.
"Of course when I put them in my jacket pocket they broke,'' Johnson recounted. "I'm not a good thief at all." Unsurprisingly, she was stopped by a store worker who asked her if she had taken the eggs. Johnson admitted to having done so and they informed her that they had already called the police. Not long after, she met Tarrant police Officer William Stacy who told her to stay put while he went into the store. Johnson, who anxiously waited for him to cuff her, was unaware that Officer Stacy had already spoken to Dollar General officials and that they'd said they wouldn't press charges.
When Officer Stacy returned a few moments later, he had a carton of eggs in his hands. "She started crying, she got very emotional and was very apologetic,'' Stacy said. "She tried to give me the money she had on her, $1.25." He revealed that he could empathize with Johnson's situation as he remembers times growing up when his mother had trouble finding the means to feed him and his sister. He had also been on a call to Johnson's house once before and had gotten a glimpse of the sparse living conditions.
"The story she told me Saturday matched up with what I had seen when I was there,'' he said. "I felt like it was the right thing to do. I didn't want to pass judgment on her." When Johnson asked how she could repay him, he told her to promise not shoplift again. "Sometimes the best route is to not arrest,'' Stacy said. "I hope she won't do it again. I pray she doesn't, and I don't think she will." As Johnson hugged the officer in gratitude, unbeknownst to both of them, a man named Robert "Dollar" Tripp filmed the heartwarming scene and later posted it on his Facebook with the hashtag "feelgoodstoryoftheday."
The story immediately went viral and soon Tarrant police were fielding calls from across the United States from people who'd heard of Johnson's plight and wanted to help. The influx of support was so overwhelming, said Tarrant Police Chief Dennis Reno, that he had to bring in a second police dispatcher to handle the volume of calls. Police officials also set up a fund at People's First Federal Credit Union on Ford Avenue in Tarrant to benefit the Johnson family. "It's growing and growing and growing,'' Reno said. " A guy called me from New York and just broke down. He said for two months he's been angry with police, and he said this has totally changed his mind."
A few days after Johnson was caught, Stacy and Officer Jay Jenkins took two loads of food to her apartment. "I just busted out and started hollering,'' Johnson said of the moment the food was delivered to her home. "I was yelling so loud. I would have been a good cheerleader."