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In Canton, Kindness of a Stranger Still Resonates –

Great Depression: man dressed in worn coat lyi...

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In Canton, Kindness of a Stranger Still Resonates –

Kirk Irwin for The New York Times

Ted Gup, Mr. Stone’s grandson, spoke Friday with Helen Palm at a program in Canton, Ohio, for those who received gifts from B. Virdot and their families.

Published: November 7, 2010

CANTON, Ohio — The event was a reunion for people who were never supposed to meet, commemorating an act of charity that succeeded because it happened in secret.

Related in Opinion
Ted Gup: Hard Times, a Helping Hand

A battered old black suitcase holds a family secret — records of anonymous philanthropy during the Great Depression.

Kirk Irwin for The New York Times

The letters, checks and checkbooks that author Ted Gup was given and used to write his book, “A Secret Gift.”

Samuel Stone

Kirk Irwin for The New York Times

Canton is having tough times once again.

Helen Palm sat in her wheelchair on the stage of the Palace Theater and read her plea for help, the one she wrote in the depths of the Great Depression to an anonymous stranger who called himself B. Virdot.

“I am writing this because I need clothing,” Ms. Palm, 90, read aloud on Friday evening. “And sometimes we run out of food.”

Ms. Palm was one of hundreds who responded to an advertisement that appeared Dec. 17, 1933, in The Canton Repository newspaper. A donor using the pseudonym B. Virdot offered modest cash gifts to families in need. His only request: Letters from the struggling people describing their financial troubles and how they hoped to spend the money. The donor promised to keep letter writers’ identities secret “until the very end.”

That end came last week at the city’s famed 84-year-old Palace Theater, at a reunion for families of B. Virdot’s recipients. About 400 people attended. For the older people, it was a chance to remember the hard times. For relatives of the letter writers, it was a time to hear how the small gifts, in the bleakest winter of the Depression, meant more than money. They buoyed the spirits of an entire city that was beginning to lose hope.

November 8, 2010 - Posted by | culture, death, depression era, history, social | , , ,

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