Monday, November 8, 2010

$5 Gifts Resonate for Generations

Imagine being totally destitute and needing a few dollars to get by for your family. Hundreds read an advertisement on Dec. 17, 1933 in The Canton Ohio Repository newspaper about an anonymous donor providing cash gifts to families in need.

His only request was that letters from the struggling people needed to describe their financial troubles and how they hoped to spend the money. The donor promised to keep letter writers’ identities secret “until the very end.”

Samuel Stone's secret lasted 75 years when in 2008, a Canton native received a suitcase stuffed with his late grandfather’s papers and did some research around the pseudonym B. Virdot.

'At a time when accepting charity was seen as a moral failure many saw the promise of anonymity shielded the letter writers from shame. An unemployed woman caring for her sick daughter and disabled sister wrote to Mr. Stone, “If I thought this would be printed in the papers I would rather die of hunger first.”'

For other families, Mr. Stone’s gift provided the only holiday cheer that bleak winter. Olive Hillman used the $5 check to buy her 8-year-old daughter a doll with a porcelain face and leather arms.

“I was thrilled to get it,” said the daughter, Geraldine Hillman Fry, now 85. “It really was the only doll that I ever had in my life, so it meant a lot to me.”

A reunion last week brought together 400 people who talked about how Mr. Stone’s example of generosity stayed with them for generations.

Days before Christmas 1933, with Mr. Stone’s gift in hand, Edith May took her 4-year-old daughter Felice to a five-and-dime store and bought her a wooden horse.

Seventy-seven years later, Felice May Dunn owns two farms and 17 Welsh ponies.

“In my life it made a big difference,” Ms. Dunn, 80, recalled. “It was my favorite toy.”

The article encourages one to think about how small acts of kindness can leave enduring, thankful memories.

(By the way, many people during the Depression tried to survive with $4-5 a week. That helps to add perspective to Mr. Stone's generous philanthropy.)