WOODBURY, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota police officer who cited a woman for stealing groceries had a change of heart when he realized the 61-year-old widow who was caring for numerous children and grandchildren was desperate for food.

Sarah Lindgren, who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Oakdale, was scanning groceries in a self-checkout lane at Walmart a few days before Thanksgiving when she realized there was more food in her cart than she could afford. She bagged the food anyway and headed toward the door in her motorized wheelchair, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

“At that point I was done,” she said. “I was just tired and drained. I didn’t care anymore.”

Lindgren’s husband died unexpectedly a few years ago, leaving her to care for her disabled daughter, her 18-year-old twins, four grandchildren and a great granddaughter. Money was tight and she had been rationing food.

“It had been awhile since we’d had a good meal,” she said. “I was determined to give them a good meal no matter what it cost me.”

As she moved toward the exit, an employee stopped her and asked her to come to a private room to wait for police.

Woodbury Officer Bryan Wagner, who got the call, listened to Lindgren’s story but wasn’t sure he believed it. He said many people facing similar circumstances lie to him, and he cited Lindgren for theft.

However, Wagner decided to do further research into Lindgren’s situation and discovered she had no criminal history, no run-ins with police and was indeed caring for many children, so he tore up her citation.

Wagner didn’t stop there, though. He went to the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf in Oakdale to get some information he could give to Lindgren. Food pantry volunteers gave him more than that.

“They allowed me to shop for her and helped me the entire time, filling my entire front seat, back seat and trunk of my squad car with food for the woman’s family, along with resources,” Wagner said.

When Lindgren saw the squad car pull up to her house, she thought Wagner was coming to arrest her and possibly take her children away. She was shocked when she saw the groceries and refused to accept them at first, saying she didn’t deserve it. When the officer convinced her to take the goods, she was overcome with emotion.

“She cried and hugged me for about two straight minutes,” Wagner said.

“He was like a guardian angel to me,” Lindgren said. “I’ve never seen an officer go out of his way the way he did. He’s my hero.”

More about: