Orange County

Police charged a Hillsborough woman with stealing food. Then bought her groceries.

A woman was spotted by Food Lion staff stealing food on Saturday.

The manager of the store off South Churton Street ran out into the parking lot and wrote down the license plate number of the gray Pontiac Vibe, and then called police.

“I knew they had me,” Theresa West, 44, of Hillsborough, said Monday. “I could see ’em taking my tag when I drove off.”

West had stolen two loaves of bread, pasta, Ragu pasta sauce, a wad of ground beef, two Ceaser salads and a stick of celery. Total value: About $34.

Hillsborough police officers Sr. Cpl. Keith Bradshaw and Officer First Class Candace Spragins took the license number, searched DMV records for a driver’s license photo, and compared it to the security footage.

West watched the patrol car roll down her short, gravel driveway off U.S. 70, near the Orange County Sportsplex.

“I was so scared. So, scared. I thought I was going to jail,” she said through tears. “When you get desperate, you get desperate.”

Bradshaw and Spragins knocked, but West didn’t immediately answer.

“Bang, bang, bang, like that,” she said. “It was so loud. I panicked.”

West takes care of her 9-year-old son, her 19-year-old daughter and feels responsible for two of her daughter’s friends who are living in the home, she said.

“I take in wayward kids … but, now I’m disabled,” she said, explaining she has rheumatoid arthritis and brain damage from a car crash.

West was fixing the spaghetti she’d stolen when the officers got there,.

“She was crying and upset, and she was just scared,” Spragins said. “The family hadn’t eaten in three days. They just needed to eat. She just needed to feed her family.”

West broke down into tears, “When you got kids in the house …

“I was desperate,” she said.

The officers found “barren” cabinets with no food in them other than what West had stolen.

Spragins explained to West she was was going to be charged with shoplifting and drove her to the police station.

West wept as she stepped before the magistrate, said Spragins, who handed her a box of tissues.

The officer explained the situation to the magistrate, who released West on $500 unsecured bail.

West said: “The magistrate called his mother! He said, ‘Mama, this girl needs some food. We’re gonna have to hook her up.’”

The magistrate’s mother put together a care package.

Bradshaw called churches and charities on West’s behalf but found they only distributed food on specific days of the month. Saturday was not one of those day.

So Spragins and Bradshaw went to Walmart.

“We started in the fruits because they’re in the front of the store,” Spragins said.

They bought oranges, apples, bananas, green beans, a 10 pound bag of potatoes and corncobs Spragins said, “After that, we hit the meat aisle along the back.”

Pork chops, beacon and “thick” chicken breasts were thrown into the cops’ cart – hot dogs too.

“We knew kids were in the house, so, of course, we had to grab a Coke or two and some Sprite,” Spragins said. “We weren’t sure what they liked. So, we figured most people like a dark drink or a light one, so, we got some of both.”

The two officers bought $140 worth of groceries for West out of their own pockets.

Then they brove back and carried the groceries into the house.

West cried. She bawled. She and her family repeatedly and profusely thanked Spragins and Bradshaw.

“It was like an act of God,” West said.

The grocery bags filled West’s kitchen floor.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks