The boy and Detective Derek Pratico
Courtesy Jacksonville Sheriff's Office/Facebook
05/28/2014 at 02:00 PM EDT
When burglary detective Derek Pratico was called to the scene of an automobile robbery in Jacksonville, Florida, on March 27, he found a young mother who was distraught over what had been stolen from inside her car.
"She told me that she had received her tax refund and had just gone out to buy her son birthday presents and clothing for herself and her family," Pratico, 36, tells PEOPLE.
He went back to the station, wrote up the burglary report and tried to call it a day – but he couldn't stop thinking of the little boy's ruined third birthday.
"I thought a young boy who was turning 3 deserved a birthday present," Pratico says. "So I went out and got him a toy police car and a Spider-Man birthday card. Then, I got him a birthday cake."
On the boy's birthday, Pratico showed up at the family's house and delivered the presents and cake he had purchased.
"She was so grateful," he says of the toddler's worried mother. "And it was a real weight off my shoulders."
The mom's wallet had been in her stolen car, so Pratico also purchased a $100 gift card to a local grocery store to help her get back on her feet.
"When I showed up at their door she was very excited," says Pratico. "She gave me a big hug and thanked me. It felt great."