I just finished reading “A Secret Gift” by Ted Gup. It is the true story of the author’s discovery of an envelope among his grandfather’s papers. The envelope was marked “PERTANING XMAS GIFT DISTRIBUTION” and included an ad taken out in December 1933 in a Canton, Ohio newspaper. The ad was offering anonymous financial aid to 50 to 75 families if they would write and explain their true circumstances. The donation amount was $5.00 – a week’s pay in 1933. The envelope was also filled with hundreds of letters and cancelled checks in the amount of $5.00 signed by B.Virdot.

The discovery of this envelope is the beginning of the author’s journey to uncover the life of his grandfather, Sam Stone, and to find out what became of those families that benefited from B. Virdot’s gift. I loved this book! It was a real view of the Depression through the eyes of the people of Canton, Ohio. It showed incredible strength and perseverance of these people – some who were born into money and others that struggled for generations. Their letters were emotional, heartbreaking and inspirational. Most of them spoke of hating to ask for charity and many asked for a job instead. They shared their plans to spend the generous gift – to pay back the milkman or landlord, to buy new shoes for their children or have a decent meal for Christmas. The money would in no way get them back on their feet financially, but gave them renewed belief in human kindness and the strength to go on.

B. Virdot knew what it was like to struggle, to be hungry and to go without. He gave back to a community of people that accepted him years before when he made Canton, Ohio his home. “The Secret Gift” is a story about the Christmas spirit touching the lives of both the giver and the receivers.

My favorite quote in the book was sent to B.Virdot in a letter asking for his help. It is a stanza of verse from poet Edgar A. Guest. I think it says it all.
He has not lived who gathers gold,
Nor has he lived whose life is told
In selfish Battles he has won,
Or deed of skill he may have done,
But he has lived who now and then,
Has helped along his fellowman.

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