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'You will make it': An anonymous neighbor stepped in when a single mom felt hopeless

The Renfree family (from left) includes Eliana, Bethany, Hateya and Angelina.
Bethany Renfree
The Renfree family (from left) includes Eliana, Bethany, Hateya and Angelina.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team. It features stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.


When Bethany Renfree was 20 years old, she and her three young daughters lived in a low-income apartment building in Jackson, California. Like most of the tenants, Renfree was a single mother. Life felt overwhelming.

One cold morning, as Renfree shuffled into the kitchen, she looked at the sink piled high with pots and pans and dishes.

"These pots were caked in grease and burnt because I actually didn't really know how to cook very well at that time. So I'd always be burning our pans with eggs or other things," Renfree said.

Her 18-month-old twins sat in their high chairs, their cheeks covered with jelly. Her youngest was just a month old. When her eyes returned to the sink, a feeling of hopelessness washed over her.

"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," Renfree remembered.

So she grabbed a garbage bag and filled it up with all the dirty dishes. She dragged it outside to the trash, but it was full, so she left it on the very edge of the dumpster. Then she packed up her kids and 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," Renfree said. "But as we were coming in, I kind of kicked something. It was a box."

Renfree brought the box inside and set it on the table. She had no idea what was inside.

"It was my pots and pans. They were shining and sparkling and all our dishes were in there. And it was all clean," Renfree remembered. "And a little note popped out, a handwritten note on a yellow piece of paper: 'I've been there before, you will make it, I promise you.'"

To this day, Renfree doesn't know which of her neighbors washed and returned her dishes. She assumes it was one of the other single moms in the complex.

"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."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brigid McCarthy
Autumn Barnes
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