A photo of a New York Police Department officer kneeling to help a homeless man put on a pair of boots he’d just purchased for him has become an unofficial symbol of the holiday season.
On a cold night before Thanksgiving, Officer Lawrence DePrimo was working a counterterrorism post in Times Square when he encountered an older, barefoot homeless man who – as he later described on a morning television show – had “blisters the size of my palms.” The New York Post reported that a passersby laughing at the man first attracted DePrimo’s attention; even in boots and two pairs of socks, his own feet were freezing in the 35-degree night, he said.
DePrimo talked to the man, learned that he wore a size 12 shoe, and then went into a Skechers store next door, returning with thermal socks and a pair of $75 all-weather work boots. As he knelt to put them on the man, Jennifer Foster – a tourist from Arizona – took this snapshot. Foster later told CNN that the moment touched her because she recalled as a young girl seeing her father, a 32-year veteran of the Phoenix police force, kneel down just like DePrimo to serve breakfast to a homeless man.
After she returned from her vacation in New York City, Foster sent the picture in an email to NYPD as a tribute. She is not a Facebook user, but a department official emailed her and asked if she would send along the photo so they could post it. DePrimo became something of an overnight Internet sensation; only a few days after the NYPD posted the picture, it had more than 600,000 “likes” and had been shared nearly a quarter-million times.
DePrimo hadn’t even considered that his private act would become so public. The 25-year-old officer joined the department in 2010 and lives with his parents on Long Island – he wasn’t warned before the photo went online, and the department hadn’t learned which officer was in the picture until hours later.
Soon after the picture posted, DePrimo was making the rounds of morning television shows hungry for a feel-good story. The New York Times reported that the police commissioner gave him a pair of cufflinks in recognition of his good deed; Mayor Michael Bloomberg both tweeted that the officer’s story was an important holiday reminder to give back, and also mentioned DePrimo on his weekly radio show. But far more valuable than the attention, DePrimo told the Today Show, is the idea that his act could be paid forward. “People are saying their faith in humanity is restored and that’s the biggest thing I can take away from all of this.”
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