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Overwhelmed, a single mom threw away her dishes. A stranger showed she wasn't alone

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Today's story comes from Bethany Renfree.

BETHANY RENFREE: I was 20 years old. My baby girls and I were living in low-income apartments. Most of my neighbors were single mothers like myself. And I remember how overwhelmed I felt that morning. It was a cold day in the apartment. I dragged myself to the sink and it was stacked with dishes, with pots and pans that had been soaking because I burnt them all. I didn't know how to cook back then, and I would always burn our pans. And I looked at my twin girls. They were 18 months old. They sat in their highchairs. The baby, the newborn, was in her swing.

I looked back at the sink and I just couldn't bring myself to do those dishes, and I couldn't look at them any longer. It was a reminder of how overwhelmed I felt in my own life. So I grabbed a white garbage bag and I stacked the dishes in there one by one. I walked out in the rain, and I placed it on the edge of the apartment dumpster because the dumpster was full. And I came back in and the girls and I left for the day. When I got back that evening, it was dark. And my porch was dark because I didn't even have the energy to change the porch light. But as we were coming in, I kind of kicked something. It was a box. And so I brought it into the apartment and put it on the table, and it was my pots and pans, and they were shining and sparkling, and the girls' "Blue's Clues" plates and their sippy cups. And a little handwritten note popped out on a yellow piece of paper and it said, I've been there before. You will make it, I promise you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RENFREE: I don't know which of the single mothers went out there that day and saw that garbage bag and understood what was happening. But if I saw her today, I would thank her for showing me that we are not alone and we are not bad mothers, even in our hardest moments. We are surrounded by kindness and understanding, and I am so grateful to have learned that lesson so early on in motherhood.

SHAPIRO: Bethany Renfree lives in Sutter Creek, Calif. When she was 27, she went back to school and earned undergraduate and master's degrees. She's now a legislative director in the California State Senate. And you can find more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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