04 October, 2011

The kindness of strangers

Yesterday I finished another non-fiction book that I started about a week ago. This was Ted Gup's A Secret Gift.

Back in the middle of the Great Depression, a clothing store owner named Sam Stone did an anonymous kindness for neighbors (and strangers) in Canton, Ohio. He placed an ad in a local paper right before Christmas, under the name of Mr. B. Virdot, asking for people who were down on their luck to write him a letter if they needed help for Christmas. He then sent $5 checks to 150 families. At that time, five dollars could make a huge difference for a family. It meant clothes, or food, or rent.

More than 70 years later, journalist/professor Ted Gup received a suitcase of his grandfather's papers. His grandfather was Sam Stone. When Gup started trying to understand the letters, written to Mr. B. Virdot, and what they had to do with his grandfather, it started him on a long journey. He learned about his hometown during the Depression, about his own secret family history, and about the hurting people who had reached out for help during one poor Christmas during the 1930s.

I enjoyed this book so much I'm thinking about giving copies as Christmas presents. It is just amazing, I loved going on this journey with Ted Gup, finding out why his grandfather gave the money away, and about the family history that had been hinted at, but never spoken about openly. The stories about those midwestern families who struggled to keep their homes and families together, with varying degrees of success, were very touching.


  1. There's a town somewhere in the US where the newspaper gives away a $1000 to several people over the Xmas period and they decide who to give it to based on the letter they write to the paper. Last year NPR interviewed several people who had written in and one of them was a young single mother who had chosen to go back to nursing school and was in assisted housing etc. They asked her what she would buy with the money if she won it, and she burst into tears and said "I would get my kids cable tv". It was such a let down... (I wonder if this is the same town?)

  2. I am in need of a new book, thanks for the rec.