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Depression-Era Generosity Still Resonates Today

41q88YMX-XL._SL160_During the summer of 2008, as journalist Ted Gup sifted through the dusty contents of an old suitcase once belonging to his grandfather, he made a surprising discovery. A trove of letters, heartfelt pleas for help written during the dark days of the Depression, was uncovered. Further investigation found that Gup’s grandfather, Sam Stone, had placed a small ad in a Canton, Ohio newspaper days before Christmas in 1933 calling on people to write to him about their need, and offering “Financial aid”. Stone used the alias, B. Virdot, and promised all the letter writers confidentiality. Good to his word, the man sent $5 to 150 families, about $12,400 translated into today’s money. These honest, raw letters and his grandfather’s simple act of kindness served as the impetus for Gup’s book A Secret Gift (The Penguin Press HC, 368pgs).

As a journalist, Gup was driven to follow the story and find out more about the struggling people who wrote the letters, and whether the gifts had made a difference in their lives. Through research he learned about the single mothers and the out-of-work businessmen, people who were able to buy shoes for their children and pay off debts, because of his grandfather’s generosity. Each small story stands as a testament to human kindness and hope for a better tomorrow. A review for the Star Tribune quotes the underlying message of the book: “It was the smallness of B. Virdot’s gift…Its puniness and its purity…[that] gave it its transformative power, then and now. It was too small to put even a dent in the Great Depression but just enough to fend off the sense that no one cared and nothing could be done.” In the past and present, the smallest kindness can make a difference, and as we find ourselves once again in difficult economic times, it is plain we could all use a little more of it.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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