12:01am

Tue December 21, 2010
Around the Nation

Secret Donors Stuff Stockings Of Needy With $100

A rabbi, a priest and a minister have been meeting in their town of Canton, Ohio, to look through more than 700 letters. About 360 of the letter writers will be chosen to receive $100 each.

The writers are people in need of help at Christmastime. The money comes from a special Christmas fund made of donations big and small.

The fund was started by three retired businessmen who had been fascinated by a story published in the local newspaper, The Repository, at Thanksgiving. The story told of an act of kindness during the Great Depression. Using the pseudonym B. Virdot, a Canton merchant had put an ad in the paper asking people who needed financial help to write. He then sent $5 checks to 150 families.

Two years ago, Ted Gup opened an old, small suitcase left by his grandfather, Samuel J. Stone, and found the letters to B. Virdot from 1933. Gup had solved a mystery, and he went on to write about his grandfather and many of those who sent the letters in a book called The Secret Gift.

The new Christmas fund was thought of as a way to pay tribute. And the new donors wanted to be anonymous as well.

"If somebody wants to say thank you, the simplest way is to send the money and do the same thing," one said.

The money has piled up to more than $48,000 in the week before Christmas.  It would help during Canton's Rust Belt hard times.

"We had a story in November that fully 25 percent of the children in our county live in poverty," says Jeff Gauger, The Repository's executive editor.

Christy Nelson, a 33-year-old mother of two, made her case in a letter to the newspaper. Nelson is out of work and broke, trying to finish a nursing degree.

"I feel that I'm not doing my job as a mom," she says. "I can't make sure that my kids have a TV to watch.  I get help from the government, and they're fed and they're taken care of, but I can't provide a Christmas."

Nelson's request? She'd like to pay her overdue utility bills. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.