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Homeless woman offers emotional hug to stranger who bought her a warm meal

A heartwarming photo of a California woman embracing a homeless woman after buying her a hot meal in a fast food restaurant has gone viral, warming the hearts of thousands online.

Just in time for the holidays, Carmen Mendez' act of kindness has warmed countless hearts after she posted a photo of the hug on Facebook, writing that she had no idea her boyfriend had captured the moment at the time.

"As we waited for our order, I saw this homeless lady walk in asking people that were throwing away [their] leftovers if she could have them," Mendez wrote in the post, which was published on Thanksgiving, a couple nights after the photo was taken at Raising Canes.

"Not one person said yes, they all ignored her and threw it away," she continued. "It broke my heart... I have been volunteering with the homeless now for many years... they don't repulse me or make me sick to my stomach."

When Mendez went to dump her tray, she couldn't find the woman.

"As I was gonna throw away my one leftover chicken strip and like five fries, I heard a very quiet voice ask me if I had anything left," she wrote. "I turned around and it was her."

Mendez gladly handed over the leftovers but as she watched the woman eat, "something didn't feel right."

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"I felt like a horrible human being feeding her my leftover chicken strip... she deserved so much more," she wrote. "So I bought her a whole meal... she deserved to eat a hot meal."

Mendez, 34, told TODAY.com that helping the homeless has been her passion for years — she volunteers on and off at a shelter, and often helps homeless people she finds near her home in Anaheim, California.

"I live in an area that's not the greatest," she said. "Literally right outside my door there are homeless people at the parks. So sometimes I'll go sit with them and ask about their day, and ask if they want to go to a shelter. I'm more than happy to put them in my car and take them there."

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In her Facebook post, Mendez wrote that the look on the woman's face when she surprised her with the meal "said it all."

"I have never felt something like this... pure, real gratitude," the post reads. "That hug she gave me was like a hug I had never felt... those tears she shed were felt deep in my heart... I held her tight and let her let it out. I wasn't repulsed by it... I just held her."

Mendez said she's just trying to remind the world that the homeless are still people: "I'm just doing what I feel is right."

Her post has been shared more than 70,000 times, and many people are applauding Mendez for her kind gesture. As one woman put it, "We all need to be more like you."

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