According to The New York Times, DePrimo was working a counterterrorism post when he encountered an older, barefooted homeless man. “It was freezing out and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet,” he later explained. “I had two pairs of socks and I was still cold.” As he talked with the man, he learned that he wore a size 12 shoe. So the officer ducked into a Sketchers shoe store around 9:30 PM, where he bought a pair of all-weather boots. The manager gave the officer his employee discount, bringing the regular $100 price down to a little more than $75. The officer kept the receipt in his vest “to remind me that sometimes people have it worse.”
He then found the homeless man, knelt, and helped him put the boots on. At that moment, a tourist from Arizona named Jennifer Foster took their picture with her cellphone. She said later, “The officer expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching. I have been in law enforcement for 17 years. I was never so impressed in my life.”
She never expected her photo to end up online, but when it was posted to the NYPD’s Facebook page it quickly went viral; this morning it has more than 176,000 shares, 495,000 likes, and 37,000 comments. The officer was shocked at the attention. He had no warning—the department did not learn his identity until hours after the picture was posted.
What does the reaction to Officer DePrimo’s act of kindness say about us?
The good news is that our hurried, hectic culture still applauds those who take time to help someone in need. The bad news is that we’re surprised when they do. The Sketchers manager said of DePrimo’s generosity, “We were just kind of shocked. Most of us are New Yorkers and we just kind of pass by that kind of thing.” Unfortunately, his response is not confined to New York.
This Christmas season, we would be wise to remember the true identity of the next hurting person we meet. According to Jesus, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Our love for them proves our love for him: “Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). As Martin Luther noted when someone criticized the innkeeper for refusing the newborn Christ: “We are the same, for we have Christ in our neighbor.”
When last did you witness a surprising kindness toward “one of the least of these”? Remember that Mother Teresa called hurting people “Jesus in his distressing disguise.” How will you treat him today?