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A refugee family was going hungry — until a fast food manager risked his job to help

Siblings Alex Yurgenson (left) and River Adams.
River Adams
Siblings Alex Yurgenson (left) and River Adams.

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.


In 1991, at the age of 19, River Adams and their family came to the United States as Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union.

The family received a small amount of support from welfare and food stamps, but it wasn't nearly enough to survive on. Adams remembers most of their meals consisted of macaroni with ketchup, old black bananas and cheap cereal. It wasn't enough to ever feel full.

Adams and their sister tried to apply for jobs. But because neither of them spoke much English, it was nearly impossible to find anyone willing to hire them.

"We couldn't pass an interview," Adams remembered. "We didn't even understand the simple questions the employers were asking."

After months of searching, Adams and their sister were finally hired at Roy Rogers, a fast food chain. The two siblings worked part time, breading chicken and mopping the floors.

"The work was hard. But being hungry and surrounded by all this food was harder," Adams said.

While their coworkers bought freshly-fried chicken for meal breaks, River and their sister went without.

"We couldn't afford any of it," Adams explained.

But after a while, their hiring manager, a man named Ed, began to notice the siblings' financial situation. And he found a way to help.

"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 didn't go to sleep hungry, and suddenly we had hope that we would survive," Adams said.

Looking back, Adams now understands that Ed was taking a risk by giving them that food. It was likely against the rules for employees to take home leftovers. But he did it anyway — and it changed River's life forever.

"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."

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.

Autumn Barnes