Sarah Robinson confessed Saturday she was nervous as she drove up to the Roeland Park Police Department, where attention and the generosity of strangers awaited her.
Six days ago, the single mother of six could have been arrested for shoplifting much-needed diapers and baby wipes, but Police Officer Mark Engravalle thought otherwise.
Engravalle didn’t arrest Robinson — and instead he paid for shoes, diapers and wipes for her children, ages 15, 13, 12, 4 and 2-year-old twins. His act of kindness generated national attention and prompted others to help out.
For several hours Saturday, countless residents donated cash, clothing, blankets, nonperishable food, toiletries and other items.
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“We feel blessed,” Robinson said after arriving at the department’s parking lot. “We went from staying in a car and renting a room to now being able to look for a place to live and pick out a place that we can like and it is not falling down and gross.”
Engravalle said he too was overwhelmed by the support the family has received since the series of events began to unfold Monday afternoon.
“I have been taken aback by the profound response and the positive nature that people have for this woman and her children,” he said. “The outpouring of support, the words of encouragement have been amazing.
“You can’t say enough: This is more than anyone had expected,” he said.
On Saturday, Robinson said a number of individuals have reached out to help and have offered a place to live.
“I have been on the phone nonstop,” she said.
Many of those who drove into the parking lot of the Police Department said it was important to help others in need. The event was organized by KCMO, a local radio station.
“I get a little bit emotional when I see things like this,” said Ben Santillan, who lives in Rosedale and served in the Navy during World War II, as tears began to well in his eyes. “I don’t want people to suffer.”
Carol Losey of Roeland Park expressed similar sentiments.
“We heard the touching story, and it touched our hearts,” Losey said after dropping off a cash donation. “It could happen to anyone.”
On Monday, Engravalle was dispatched to the Wal-Mart at 51st Street and Roe Boulevard, where Robinson and her daughter were caught shoplifting.
“There was no way I could knowingly walk away from that situation feeling good about myself and knowing those poor children didn’t have any shoes or diapers,” he said.
Robinson said she became desperate after the family was kicked out of where they were staying and were unable to retrieve their belongings.
“We didn’t have anything,” she said. “I guess it was like, I don’t know, a stroke of stupid. I was just completely overwhelmed and I was wrong, and I told her (the daughter), ‘This is not what you do.’
“I really didn’t know what else to do.”
Robinson said she is grateful for all the help and knows she’s not the only person in that kind of situation.
“I understand there are people who have the same struggles and have the same problems,” she said.
A bank account has also been set up to help Robinson and her family. Donations can be sent to the Sarah J. Robinson Donation Account, Mission Bank, 5115 Roe Blvd., Roeland Park, KS 66205.