Jessica Robles cracked a smile Friday as she sat on the front porch of her Cutler Bay home, wiping chocolate stains from her young son’s mouth.
She had just landed a job a few days earlier as a receptionist — her family’s first steady income in months.
Weeks earlier, she had stepped out onto the porch of her brown stucco home with no money and no way to feed her three kids.
“I knew when I left home that day that I had to come back with something to eat for my kids,” said Robles, 30. “I had to do it.”
What she did was walk about a mile to a nearby Publix and tried to push a cart with about $300 worth of groceries home. A store manager stopped her and called the police. Miami-Dade Officer Vicki Thomas showed up.
Robles got a notice to appear in court for shoplifting, but she got a lesson in humanity, as well as a week’s worth of food and a story of kindness that has spread across the country.
Outside the Publix on SW 207th Street and South Dixie Highway, Robles explained to Officer Thomas that she was taking the food because she didn’t have any money.
Thomas’ three grandchildren flashed in her mind as Robles’s next words touched her heart.
“I wish I could tell you I will never do this again,” Robles told Thomas. “But I can’t because my children are hungry, and I don’t know what I will do.”
Robles’s boyfriend had lost his job and, because of a paperwork issue, the federal assistance had stopped.
The mother’s desperation moved Thomas to action. How could she face her grandchildren if she didn’t have anything to feed them, she thought.
In uniform and in between calls, Thomas rushed through the grocery aisles of Publix on the quickest shopping spree of her life, grabbing cereal, rice, pasta, peanut butter and jelly and any other good buy-one-get-one deal.
She thought about what her grandkids would want to eat. She grabbed a box of those colorful ice pops they love.
“I was purely in grandma mode,” she would say later.
She quickly purchased $100 worth of groceries for Robles and gave her a ride home.
Weeks later, Thomas’s spontaneous act of charity aired on a local television broadcast, and the story spread quickly in media outlets.
Miami-Dade Police have been swamped with calls from all over — from people wanting to help Robles out to talk shows wanting to put Thomas in the spotlight.
The officer of 23 years has invitations from the likes of television talk show hosts Ellen Degeneres and Steve Harvey. She’s letting the Miami-Dade public information office handle the calls.
“The public has been amazing and overwhelming,” she said Friday.
Robles’s phone has been ringing more, too. She’s slated to appear on “Inside Edition” and “Good Morning America” next week.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” said Robles, who starts her new job Monday as a receptionist for a Miami telecommunications company. She got the job offer a day after the story aired about her arrest.
For Thomas, helping the less fortunate is nothing new for her and other officers. Around the holidays, she and other officers like to buy Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas presents for people in the community.
“We’re lucky,” she said. “And sometimes, people don’t have as much as we do.”
People have called the police department from as far away as Illinois and Colorado to help Robles. Some locals have reached Robles and donated a couple hundred dollars to the family.
Thomas said all she asked of Robles is that when she gets on her feet to pay it forward by helping someone out who’s less fortunate.
“She said she would,” Thomas said.
On Friday, Robles’s 2-year-old son Xavier walked around the porch with his cat, aptly named “Cat,” in his arms. He and his older brother Elijah, 5, talked excitedly about their Halloween costumes.
But, mom was busy talking about her upcoming first day at work.