A Manitoba restaurateur's compassionate open letter and offer of help to a woman who stole a stack of pre-made pizzas is getting a lot of attention online.

"We have a ton of views on this, so it's kind of blown up a lot bigger than I expected it to," said Damian Penner, who owns Rocco's Pizzeria in Steinbach.

"I just want her to come and get help, you know? Whether it was a malicious intent, that she was stealing for the thrill of it, or if she was stealing to feed her children, there are resources and things available to help her."

The woman went into Rocco's about 10:15 p.m. Sunday night with four children. The kids were causing a disturbance — moving chairs around in the restaurant and running into the kitchen area — while the woman was "humming and hawing" about the menu and occasionally arguing with a girl working the counter, Penner recalled.

"They were causing her to get incredibly flustered that she wasn't really able to focus on what was all going on around her," he said.

Eventually, they all left. However, surveillance tape revealed the kids were a distraction while the woman took four pre-made take-and-bake pizzas from a cooler.

She put them into a bag and left, then returned about two minutes later and the kids grabbed more of the pizzas and took them to her, while she waited in a different part of the restaurant, Penner said.

He estimates about seven or eight of the pizzas were taken in total.

Damian Penner

Damian Penner, with his wife, Jodi, says he wants the thief to consider his offer to connect her with community social agencies so she can get the help she needs — for herself and the children that were with her. (Damian Penner)

Penner admits he was angry at first.

"That's theft from my pocket and it's theft from my family," he said, but called it a knee-jerk reaction that dissolved with more conscious thought.

"There's no point in going around, stomping your feet all day long, getting mad because of something that, inevitably in business, will occur. How we react is what's going to define us."

He decided against calling police, instead turning to social media.

"We have kids involved here and that's something where I don't want to be putting their lives at a potential disadvantage. I don't want to be that factor," Penner said. "So we figured we'll do a reach-out and maybe she can see that there's some kind hearts out there that really do want to help."

His post on the Rocco's Facebook page offered to connect the woman with community social agencies. He also encouraged the woman to consider the example she is setting for the children involved.

"Putting her picture on social media is just going to [cause] shame. Rather than trying to shame somebody I want to try and give them a hand up." - Damian Penner

Penner is involved with the church in the community southeast of Winnipeg, and his business works with family resource centres and soup kitchens on charity drives.

"I have a lot of contacts with these organizations and I'd really just like, ultimately, for this lady to come in and say 'you know what, I need a hand and I'm not sure where to go,'" he said.

He hoped the post would be shared among a few people in the community and word would get back to the woman. It has since been responded to by about 840 people and shared more than 225 times.

Penner has since been able to identify the woman on social media and hopes she'll consider his offer.

"I'm a family man and this is a family that I don't want to give unjust stress to, but would rather see the community try and help them out," he said, noting that is why he decided against posting images from the surveillance video.

"Putting her picture on social media is just going to [cause] shame. Rather than trying to shame somebody I want to try and give them a hand up.

"Just a little bit of compassion goes a long way in this world."

With files from Leif Larsen