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A refugee's family struggled to get work and food until a fast food manager noticed

AILSA CHANG, 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. And today's story comes from River Adams. In 1991, at the age of 19, River and their family came to the U.S. as Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. Though the family received a small amount of support from welfare and food stamps, it wasn't nearly enough to survive on. So River and their older sister tried to apply for jobs, but neither of them spoke much English.

RIVER ADAMS: For the first several months, no one would hire us because, well, we couldn't pass an interview. We didn't even understand the simple questions the employers were asking. So the four of us were always hungry. Our diet consisted almost entirely of macaroni with ketchup, discounted manager's special bananas and the cheapest cereal we could find, which was Froot Loops. But, you know, still, there was never enough of these foods either.

Then in the summer of '91, my sister and I were hired to work at Roy Rogers. It was a fast-food chain that was very common then, and they specialized in fried chicken. And the manager who hired us, he did us a kindness just by giving us the job 'cause we were still, you know, really not with it. And all I remember about this man is that his name was Ed.

So the work was hard, but being hungry and surrounded by all this food was harder. We couldn't afford any of it. When other workers bought their meals during breaks, we didn't eat. And I think after a while, Ed realized the financial situation we were in, and he began to help us. We worked the evening shift, so after we would close and clean the restaurant, Ed would put the leftover fried chicken into a bucket and give it to us to take home to our family. And for the first time in months, the four of us ate. We didn't go to sleep hungry, and suddenly we had hope that we would survive. Of course, we didn't understand then that Ed was breaking the rules by giving us this food.

I doubt that Ed remembers us, but he is a hero in our family, and we mention his name often and with utmost warmth. I doubt he knows that these two new immigrants that he once hired and fed remember him as the first American who was kind to us. He's the man who saved us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: That was listener River Adams of Marlborough, Mass. River went on to become a pianist, medical interpreter and author. You can find more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. And to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to send a voice memo.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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