A Lesson in Giving From the Great Depression


By Cheryl Mahoney

Many have made comparisons between our current economic situation and the Great Depression of the 1930s.  I recently read a wonderful article in The New York Times that took a slightly different angle on this subject: looking back to the Great Depression for an example of how to give during a hard time.

Ted Gup wrote an Op-Ed piece for The Times about a story of giving from the Great Depression.  Just before Christmas in 1933, a letter appeared in the local newspaper in Canton, Ohio, inviting those in need of relief to write in with their stories.  “Mr. B. Virdot” promised to write checks to help tide people over the holidays.   Hundreds of letters poured in, and checks went out, signed B. Virdot, mostly in the amounts of five or ten dollars.  In the end, B. Virdot sent out $750 to people in need–much more money then than now.  The mystery is, Canton, Ohio was a relatively small town (slightly over 100,000 people) and no one in it was named B. Virdot.

B. Virdot turned out to be Samuel J. Stone, the article-writer’s grandfather.  He had given the money anonymously, some of it to people he knew personally.  So anonymously, in fact, that his grandson only recently found out the truth.

What struck me in this story is how such a seemingly small thing can really be such a big thing.  Five dollars or ten dollars, then as now, probably won’t change someone’s life–but it can make a difference.  I imagine that it was not so much the money that helped, as the feeling that someone cared, and was willing to be generous as a result.  What a beautiful example this is of sharing what we have with the people around us who need a little help, and without expecting anything in return–even recognition.

No resource or charity to click today.  Just a story about giving, in small ways or big, and coming together in a difficult time to help where we can.


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