Enrique Gonzales-Ramirez was taking his 6-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy for treatment when his St. Paul home was burglarized on December 1.
Not two weeks later, thieves struck again. They took a TV, an old laptop, even piggy bank change that Gonzales-Ramirez’s children earned from clearing alleys of pop cans.
The single father of four, who works trimming trees, was devastated. The TV, especially, was crucial for his special needs child who couldn’t always go outside and play with the other kids.
The case struck a nerve with Officer John McManus, who’d been with the St. Paul Police for 18 years. After so long on the force, he’d become hardened to images of families in need, victims of crime who fell behind with paying their electric bills and putting food on the table. But when it came to Gonzales-Ramirez, the officer couldn’t shake what he saw.
It struck McManus that Gonzales-Ramirez’s possessions were extremely sparse even before the burglars broke in. Barely furnished, the house was nevertheless immaculate.
“I mean, for having four young kids and a single dad, I kind of went, ‘Oof, he puts me to shame,’” McManus says. “And it wasn’t like when you walk into a house and they took the Xbox and the 10 laptops. They took what little he had.”
So McManus and a group of officers cooked up a donation drive.
Soon, Sealy Mattress hooked them up with new beds and box springs. The officers took the family on a shopping spree at Walmart and Target, where the kids gravitated toward school supplies and modest toys like coloring books and dolls packaged in bulk.
“Gonzales-Ramirez wouldn’t buy anything for himself. You could tell that the kids came first,” McManus says. “He kept saying, ‘Oh no, that’s enough, that’s enough.’”
Eventually, the officers twisted the father’s arm into getting some new shoes to replace his pair from Goodwill, which was a size and a half too big.
Finally, the officers replaced the TV for the little girl.
With the burglars still on the loose, Gonzales-Ramirez asked his landlord to move into a different house. The landlord had a spare apartment, but it’s in the process of being remodeled.
So he asked the officers for a safe place to store all the new items, McManus says. They "didn’t blink, didn’t say, 'Hey, we just got all this fun stuff. They just said, 'OK, we’ll just enjoy them when the time is right.'”
“For me, I just walked away going, 'God, I wish I could get my kids to see life that way.'”