GOLDSBORO, N.C. (CNN) — Having been with the Goldsboro Police Department in North Carolina for the past nine years, Officer Michael Rivers has come to know the faces of the homeless in his community. But Wednesday, he came upon a homeless woman he had never seen before. And her shirt caught his eye. It read: “Homeless. The fastest way of becoming a nobody.”
He had his windows down so the two made eye contact and acknowledged each other with a simple, “Hey.” He drove away, but something kept tugging at him to go back, Rivers said.
“God put it on my heart to get her lunch,” the 29-year-old officer told CNN. “So I turned around and I asked her, ‘Hey, did you eat today?’ And she said, ‘No.'”
So he grabbed pepperoni and cheese pizzas from a nearby pizza shop and sat down on the grass next to her. The pizza they shared was great, Rivers said, but the conversation was even better.
For 45 minutes, Rivers and the homeless woman, who he said identified herself as Michelle, shared their life stories. And the heartwarming moment was captured in a photo by a passerby, whose husband shared it on Facebook.
“Law enforcement does so much for our community, with a lot of it going unnoticed,” Chris Barnes said in his Facebook post, which has since garnered nearly 1,000 likes and more than 3,000 shares.
“We see you Goldsboro P.D. Keep up the good work,” Barnes added.
As the two started talking, Michelle told Rivers she has a 12-year-old daughter who is battling liver disease and in foster care. She also has a 23-year-old son, Rivers said. Her husband, also homeless, stood across the street as the two conversed.
After finishing their lunch, they went their separate ways. But Rivers said the interaction made him realize that he and Michelle were similar in how they are perceived by society.
People who are homeless are often shunned by society and blamed for bringing the situation upon themselves.
Meanwhile, Rivers said he feels police officers are often portrayed in a negative light as society focuses on just the “bad apples.”
But “homeless people are just people who are down on their luck,” Rivers said. “It can happen to anybody.”
And for himself, he didn’t set out to be a police officer because he wanted to ruin a person’s day, Rivers said.
“I come to work and my method is, ‘Who can I bless today? Who can I make smile?” Rivers said. ‘”I’m not the one that wants to take somebody’s father or mother away and put them in jail.”
Police Chief Michael West said he saw the picture circulating on social media and applauded Rivers for his good deed.
“The circumstances around our job are often an unpleasant call to service, but this picture just shows we’re human like anyone else and any chance we get to serve the community and help people, we take that chance,” West told CNN. “I’m very fortunate to have Officer Rivers in our department.”