Police officers' random act of kindness goes viral
July 3, 2014 at 2:03 a.m.
Updated July 4, 2014 at 2:04 a.m.
Something about two police officers grocery shopping at the Houston Highway Wal-Mart seemed a bit odd to Rebecca Vasquez.
Maybe because it was late at night. Maybe because they were in uniform or maybe because she just didn't think they could eat all that food.
"I was behind them in line, and they had a large basket full of food - eggs, milk, cereal and canned goods," she said. "I asked them about it, and they said they got called out to a house, and the family didn't have any food."
Vasquez snapped a picture - she wanted to share the officers' good deeds with her Facebook friends - and what happened next surprised everyone, including the two officers. The photo went viral.
Vasquez posted the picture in the news feed of the Facebook group The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Victoria Business, and within minutes, people began liking, commenting and sharing the photo. As of Thursday, almost 400 people have liked the original photograph, and news stations from Victoria, Oklahoma, and as far off as Maryland and San Francisco retold the story.
"It is just something we did out of the kindness of our hearts," Bryan Knief, a senior officer with the Victoria Police Department, said. "It was something that just happened."
Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig said when he heard about the officers' actions, he, too, was impressed.
"Their actions demonstrate their willingness to help others above and beyond the normal call of duty," he said. "I'm proud that they represented the Victoria police department in such a giving way in the community."
Photographs of another officer, Jeremy Buchhorn, were posted online Wednesday of him passing out free cookies to children at the city splash pad.
Traffic Safety Officer Branden Allen, who is also the president of the Victoria Police Officer Association, said that he's worked with Buchhorn for many years, and that's just something he likes to do.
"People think all we do is write tickets and take people to jail," Allen said. "But we do have big hearts. We just have a job to do."
Knief said he and Cadet Officer Anthony Vacarro were called to the home of a mother with three children, and it was pretty obvious the family didn't have much of anything.
"I started talking to her, and she explained they weren't going to have any money for awhile and were down to two cans of tuna," Knief said. "I couldn't go to sleep and wake up knowing I could get anything to eat, and they didn't have food."
Knief said anyone would have done the act of kindness had they been in the same situation.
But for Ganado resident Rebecca Leal, who commented on and shared the photo, the random act of kindness reminded her of her childhood - being one of six children whom a single mother raised.
"I know what it's like to be without," Leal, 42, said. "My mom had two jobs and made $100 a week - we knew what it was like to struggle."
The photograph, she said, reminded her of how great it felt to have someone help when they didn't expect it and that it's good for people to see a softer side of officers.
"They only come out when something bad happens," she said. "Their job already puts them in a negative spotlight - this is something they probably do every day, but it never gets noticed. It's rare we get to catch it, and it's good that we got to see this."
Knief said when they returned to the home, the family was extremely grateful, and both the mother and children broke down crying.
"There's people out there that need help," he said. "She didn't ask for it. You can tell deep down she was just very grateful we would do something like that for her, and if there is any message that a person takes from this, it's to pay it forward - if you see someone that's in need, help them out."
Vacarro, who just recently returned to the police department after leaving for a few years, said the opportunity to help the family also was a blessing for them because "a lot of times, we don't get to share emotions."
Vacarro said they bought the family a lot of canned foods, hot dogs, sausages and staples such as milk, eggs and tortillas.
As for the bag of cat food seen in the picture, it belonged to the woman who took the picture, he said.
"We see a lot of stuff every day with this job; everything is different," he said, but "you could just tell they were in need of help. They didn't have any water or food."
The police department declined to identify the family.
"I think police officers get a bad rap sometimes, and the photo shows they're just as human as anyone else," Quail Creek resident Ashlee Cooper said about the viral photograph she's also shared and commented on.
Cooper said her son, who is a student at Patti Welder Middle School, has a somewhat negative connotation of officers because there's one on campus at school.
"I showed him the photo," she said. "I told him, 'Look, this is what they're here for. They responded to a call and saw a family that didn't have food, and no one told them they had to, but they reached into their own pockets and bought them groceries.'
"And you know what he told me? He said, 'Maybe they do have hearts.'"
Knief and Vacarro said they don't think it's simply their action that has inspired so many people but rather the emotions it has invoked in the people who've shared the photo with their own stories.
"What (Vasquez) said about it, it really hit her hard that we would do something like that," Knief said. "What she said, it really struck people."
Vasquez said she's heard a lot of stories online about officers who have done similar things and for something like that to happen in Victoria is awesome.
"I've always held them in a high regard, but it's opened my eyes to see them actually do it," Vasquez, 26, said. "I think it just made people feel good to see it."