But when NYPD officers arrived, they served her compassion instead.
It's a side of policing we don't often see: A woman, surrounded by officers, sobbing into a tissue at Whole Foods. Her tears are ones of gratitude, reported CBS2's Christina Fan.
"It was a very beautiful, genuine moment," said Paul Bozymowski, who posted the picture on Twitter.
He says store security had just detained the woman for shoplifting, but then the NYPD stepped in.
"She was extremely emotional. She couldn't speak. She just looked at me and said thank you," said Lt. Louis Sojo.
The three officers were on Fourth of July duty near Union Square when they stopped by the Whole Foods for a bite to eat. As soon as they walked through the doors, a security guard waved them down.
"We looked in her bag, and we didn't see... All we saw was containers of food. We didn't see anything, anything else. It was just a necessity -- food. And I was like, you know... We didn't even speak about it. Oh, are we gonna pay for it? No, it was just like, alright, let's go," said Officer Esanidy Cuevas.
Web Extra: Officers Who Paid For Woman's Groceries Speak Out
The woman admitted to stealing the food from the store's hot bar because she was hungry.
The officers brought her over to the cash register and all three of them pitched in $10 to pay for her meal.
"When you look at someone's face and you noticed that they need you and they're actually hungry, you know, it's pretty difficult as a human being to walk away from something like that," said Lt. Sojo.
The photographer who captured it all says it's not just the woman who was touched.
"I know these are things that are probably happening all the time and they go unnoticed, and I'm glad this one's getting noticed," said Bozymowski.
The photo documenting the moment of kindness has indirectly touched thousands across the city too.
Chief of Department Terrance Monahan shared the photo, saying, "Cops like Lt. Sojo and Officers Cuevas and Rivera of the Strategic Response Group are the kind-hearted cops who quietly do good deeds for New Yorkers in need. My thanks to @pboz for highlighting the often unnoticed."
Lt. Sojo and the officers are still in shock at how their simple deed has attracted so much attention.
All three officers say this isn't the first time they've paid for food or necessities for a stranger, and they're humbled by all the attention.
On the same day, another group of NYPD officers helped save a baby from dying. The child's parents flagged the officers down after the infant stopped breathing.
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