Erin Bennett had hoped to treat herself to a few small items at Target during a stressful time last week. But at checkout, the Virginia mom of four realized that she was over her budget.
She apologized to the cashier, preparing to put back a scented candle and some makeup, when a stranger in line behind her offered to pay for the items.
"It was definitely shocking because that's just not something people do every day,'' Bennett told TODAY. "You get conditioned to all this stuff that's going on in the news, and you don't expect something so generous."
The older man, who had gray hair and a gray beard, paid about $30 for her extra items, not knowing how much a simple $10 pumpkin-spice candle meant to Bennett. She was diagnosed with post-partum depression seven months after her third child was born, and the scented candles help her relax.
"It's definitely been difficult because (post-partum depression) makes you question whether you're doing everything right and being the best parent you can be,'' she said. "It's just been important to find time for myself, whether that's getting to a therapy appointment or taking a bath with the scented candles."
Bennett, who was with her 2-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son, gave the man a hug with her baby boy strapped to her chest.
She didn't get his name, but wrote a touching thank-you on Facebook hoping to let the mysterious stranger know how much his gesture meant to her. His total bill came to about $80, as Bennett said he was also buying a gift for someone else.
"You didn't know that this week has been full of sick kids, parent-teacher conferences (and) emergency dental visits, and I was so looking forward to lighting that candle at nap time and just taking a minute to relax,'' she wrote.
"Even without knowing that, you saw me. You saw me as a human, not just the mom in front of you that was distracted and going way too slow. You heard me say that I'd like to put those items back and you said you were getting them. You didn't take no for an answer. You told me I deserved it when I started to tear up."
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His kind purchase happened on Oct. 11, but she said she still hasn't identified her gift-giver or heard from him since her post was widely shared.
The items were a nice pick-me-up for Bennett, who has been on a tight budget since she and her husband decided she would quit her job as a registered nurse to stay home with their four children.
Her husband, Ernie, works in construction while she cares for their two boys and two girls, who range in age from 5 months to 9 years old.
"When I quit my job to stay home with the kids, I decided to give up little extras like that,'' Bennett said. "It's cool because not only did it pick me up, but it reminded so many people about the importance of paying it forward."
Bennett's daughter, Eva, 2, was thankful for the man's kindness.
"She said it made her happy because it made me happy,'' Bennett said.
The candle also has been put to good use.
"It's almost gone,'' Bennett said. "It's been burning pretty much nonstop."
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