Secret Gifts

6598576457_8234fc4768_bIn 1933, there were not many gifts under Christmas trees in Canton, Ohio. The Great Depression had taken most of the joy and much of the hope out of Christmas. Jobs were hard to find. And the jobs that people found didn’t pay much. Many people in Canton, and other American cities, struggled (tried extremely hard) to survive (continue to live normally).

Eight days before Christmas, an advertisement written like a letter appeared on the front page of the Canton newspaper. Here’s what it said (in my words):

What if I couldn’t find food for my family to eat tomorrow. Would I accept help from a welfare organization (one that helps needy people)? I don’t think so. I would be too embarrassed (worried about what people think). And I know that many of you feel the same way.

If you’re in a situation like that, I would like to help so that your family will be able to spend a merry and joyful Christmas. I don’t want anyone to know my name, and I will never tell yours.

Please send a letter to B. Virdot, General Delivery, Canton, Ohio. Tell me about your situation, and I will send you financial aid (money to help) without delay (as soon as possible).

During the next few days, 150 needy Canton families received checks for $5 – almost $100 in today’s dollars.

No one knew the full story of the mysterious B. Virdot and his anonymous (without a name) gifts until 2008. That’s when Ted Gup’s mother gave him an old suitcase. When he opened it, he found a stack (pile) of letters written just before Christmas in 1933.

In his letter, Harry Stanley, who hadn’t worked for two years, said he hoped to give his five children a good Christmas dinner. Ruby Blythe didn’t want anything for herself. She wanted to help her neighbor whose children didn’t have clothes for school and would have only bread for Christmas dinner. One after another, the letters Gup read described the needs of good people who wanted to care for family, friends, and neighbors but couldn’t because of the Depression.

Gup also found a stack of canceled (used) checks – all for $5 and signed by B. Virdot. And he discovered something else: B. Virdot was his grandfather, Samuel Stone. He had made up the name B. Virdot so no one would know who he was.

Stone was not a wealthy man. His Jewish family had escaped persecution (bad treatment of a group of people) in Romania 30 years earlier and come to America. His secret gifts were his way of saying thank you to the people of Canton and America for accepting their family when they were needy.

Gup, a writer and professor of journalism, spent the next year looking for and sharing the stories of the letters with the families of people who had received his grandfather’s checks. He also wrote a book – A Secret Gift – that tells the stories.

Gup learned that one person who had received a check was still alive. When he asked Helen Palm if she remembered, she replied, “Oh my God! You better believe it!” Palm bought herself a pair of shoes: her old ones had holes in the soles (the bottom of a shoe). And she bought gifts for her brothers and sisters and took her parents out for dinner.

Gup says his grandfather knew that his gifts couldn’t change much. But, he writes, “[my grandfather] had learned from his own hard life that even the most modest (small) of offerings (gifts) can provide the gift of hope and the knowledge that someone cares.”

You can learn more about the story of B. Virdot by viewing the CBS video story Secret Great Depression Benefactor Revealed.


Jeff, Lucy, and all of us who help with the podcast, blog, and website wish all of you a wonderful holiday season!


~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

This story is adapted from Meet B. Virdot, the Mysterious Christmas Benefactor by Ted Gup.
Photo used under Creative Commons license.


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36 Responses to Secret Gifts

  1. emiliano says:

    To every one of you that read these words, please HAVE A HAPPY CHRISTMAS full of love and good feelings, sourrended by your
    family or friends or even being alone have a good night and nice hollidays being well self content with your own company.

    Lucy, Warren; Jeff and all ESL staff, just the same wishes from these your Spanish family, Cuca, Gatufo and Emiliano.
    Have a nice beautifull Christmas full of goos senstions and friendly feelings.
    You all are loved for thousand and thousand of people round the world that sure have nice thoughts and wishes sent to you
    for their loving hearts.

  2. Dan says:

    Hi guys.

    Interesting story, I did not even know about the persecution of Romanian Jews in the 19th century.

    I actually believe that the first one benefiting from an act of kindness is the person doing it.
    Or at least that is what I feel like when I get the chance of helping others.
    I am almost like “thank you for giving me this chance of feeling good and doing the right thing.

    Thanks and have a good holiday season.

  3. Tania says:


    “P is for Pudding we eat on Christmas Day.
    R is for Reeinder pulling Santa’s sleigh.
    E is for Excitement during holiday.
    S is for Santa , our dear guest.
    E is for Energy , when we do our best.
    N is for Night, when we all rest.
    T is for Tinsel on our Christmas.
    S is for Songs we sing when we’re happy!”

  4. Tania says:


    “You’d better watch out,
    You’d better not cry,
    You’d better not pout,
    I’m telling you why:
    Santa Claus is coming to town!

    He’s making a list
    And checking it twice,
    Gonna find out
    Who’s naughty or nice,
    Santa Claus is coming to town!

    He sees you when you’re sleeping
    He knows when you’re awake
    He knows if you were good or bad,
    So be good, for goodness sake!”

    A traditional English carol

  5. Tania says:


    MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR to all our dear teachers, ESLPodcast team, and all our dear blog friends.



  6. Tania says:



  7. Tania says:



  8. Tania says:



  9. Tania says:



  10. Tania says:


    My modest wishes ” can provide the gift of hope and the knowledge that someone cares”.

  11. peter says:

    Man ,
    Extraordinary story.
    It is very heartfelt!!!
    Happy holiday season back to u

  12. Rocky, India says:

    First of all
    A Merry Christmas to all.
    God (Jesus) helps everyone. Only we need to believe on God.

  13. Parviz says:

    Merry Christmas,

  14. Marcos says:

    For everyone and your families

    Dr. Jeff, Lucy, ESL team and blog friends

    ( Feliz natal e próspero ano novo )

    ( From Brazil )

  15. NerminEminova says:


  16. Tania says:


    “Sing we all merrily
    Christmas is here,
    The day that we love best
    Of the days in the year.”

  17. Tania says:


    “Sing hey! Sing hey!
    For Christmas Day;
    Twine mistletoe and holly,
    For friendship glows
    In winter snows,
    And so let’s all be jolly.”

  18. hanmi says:

    This is the best place I’ve ever known. Thank you.
    Happy holidays!
    from Seoul.

  19. Behzad says:


    Wonderful story! Thank you very much ESLPodcast team.
    I wish the best for all of my friends in ESL English course.

    Happy Christmas

  20. Tania says:


    “Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
    had a very shiny nose.
    And if you ever saw him,
    you would even say it glows.

    Then one foggy Christmas Eve
    Santa came to say:
    Rudolph with your nose so bright,
    won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

  21. Tania says:


    “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
    In the lane, snow is glistening
    A beautiful sight,
    We’re happy tonight,
    Walking in a winter wonderland.”

    Winter Wonderland, first published in 1934

  22. Tania says:


    “In the meadow we can build a snowman,
    And pretend that he’s a circus clown
    We’ll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
    Until the alligators knock him down.”

    Winter Wonderland, first published in 1934

  23. Tania says:


    “All I want for Christmas
    Is my two front teeth,
    My two front teeth.”

    All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, first published in 1946

  24. Tania says:


    “It does not matter much whom we live with in this world,
    but it matters a great deal whom we dream of.”

    Willa Cather Quote

  25. peter says:

    Hi folks,
    U know what they say , ” When the going gets though the though gets going.”
    We are entering a new beginning.
    May we all sail through the year 2015 with nothing tough to tough out


  26. Tania says:


    “This Christmas
    I want a secret gift for me
    To see
    The whole happy family.”

  27. lili:) says:

    Thank you Dear Warren for this special Christmas story. I hope you and your family and everyone in this peaceful website had had a good Christmas.

    I’m not a Christian and I suppose I shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. But I make use of this special period to give some gifts to my friends who I don’t have a chance to give presents to otherwise.

    Christmas has become a handy excuse for us to delay giving a ‘Thank You’ gift until the end of the year. If I owe my friend a favour, for example, I’ll tell myself, don’t worry, I’ll buy her a present when Christmas comes.


    Christmas is simply a magic moment, isn’t it. Samuel Stone made use of this special occasion to do something special for the people who once helped him and his family. Donation is not a privilege of rich people. Anyone can donate something when they feel it’s the right thing to do.

    Like Samuel Stone, my parents were not rich at all, but they donated money, food, medicine, etc etc whenever they had the opportunities to do so.

    Not too long ago, when my father was still alive, he told me many things that he did when he was younger. He remembered he gave all his money to help his siblings and other people. He said, ‘I have been giving away money all my life, and I still have enough to live on even when I’m so old’. He said it proved that donating money wouldn’t make him poorer.

    I’m sure Samuel Stone’s children and grandchildren are supportive of his generosity.

    Dan I am very happy to hear that you donate money to this website from time to time. You’re doing the right thing. Education is very expensive. Jeff and his team gave us free articles, podcasts and scripts. We do benefit from this ‘free education’. If no one contributes at all, one day the resources will run out.

    I have a lot of expenses. But I hope I’ll not have to cut back on my expenses of education and entertaining – learning modern day English while having fun here.



  28. lili:) says:

    Sorry wrong tense form in my sentence:
    “Jeff and his team gave us free articles, podcasts and scripts”.
    should read as:
    “Jeff and his team give us free articles, podcasts and scripts”.

  29. Tania says:

    Last night I saw on TV a concert “Let It Be” Beatles – The Night Which Changed America.
    A lot of famous singers: Keith Urban, Alicia Keys and John Legend, Maroon 5 band, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, Stevie Wonder
    together with Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. A lot of stars in the concert hall.
    A homage to The Beatles with all their hits.

  30. Tania says:


    “When I find myself in times of trouble
    Mother Mary comes to me
    Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

    Let It Be by The Beatles

  31. Dan says:

    Hi Lili!

    Do not worry Lili, even if you are not a “Christian” you can celebrate Christmas.
    But since I do not want to get into politics and religion here, to see why, just look at this video on You Tube: Christmas Behind the Curtain.
    It’s just a 14:34 video with many information on the subject and interesting facts. I am a sub. to that channel.

    Personally, I do not celebrate pretty much anything.

    And about my “donation” I am just paying back for what I take from the site. I do not consider those “donations”.
    I listen to the podcast and write on the blog and with that comes a little bit of interaction with others around the globe which is a good thing.

    Hey Lili, one more thing, you know what I think about you already but please, please I am begging you, do not use “Cheerio”
    I know they use that in UK, I am not aware if that it’s used in all the UK, but to my hear it sounds awful.
    Think that over here we have a well known brand of tomato puree called -Cirio- and that is just like -Cheerio-. So, if you say that in Italy you sound even more funny.

    I am not sure whether that is used in the US or they make fun of it, used it in a way of making fun of it.
    I’ll check that out on the pod/blog archive.


  32. emiliano says:

    That concert have to be really good dear Tania, may be here it could have been in the tv. also
    but usually I am not aware of tv. options.

    A happy Christmas to you dear Tania and Lili, despite You Lili don´t celebrate it.

    Last week Cuca and me have been watching program in the TV. about Spaniards who are
    living in HONG KONG.
    Interesting and nice to see how life could be in Hong Kong, the skyline of the city and how
    the spaniards are starting their life in that incredible city.

    Some how I got the feeling that could be nice to visit your city Betty, but it is really
    very far from here..
    Well, I have to see and ask you about the subject if I make my mind to travel over

    Again, my best to all of you dear Blog´s friends, also the best to you and your family
    Warren, it is not necessary to say that your story has been as good as usually, and
    what is clear for me is “That there are lot of good souls over there round us and we are
    not aware of that, till the moment a story like this is published”. Good for him, Samuel
    Stone, that was happy helping other people without any publicity, the best form of
    helping our brothers.

    My mothere always told me:
    “Don´t let it know neither of your hands what is doing the other hand”, so if you
    give something or help some body be silence and don´t say anything in the way
    of giving you own merit or letting other give it to you.
    If you do that, you are spoiling your action my dear baby, and she always did
    so helping other without any publicityu, giving me a lesson with her own acts.

    Now Cuca did the same, yes I am a lucky son and husband with a mother and
    a wife like that, silence helpers which ever occasion they have had along their


  33. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Hello, guys! I’m here again after a long time. I missed all of you. Hey, Tania, I loved your poem. You are a poet indeed. We all are poet in the barhroom, aren’t we? I’ll be back pretty soon.
    Aecio, from beautiful Brazil.

  34. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    I had forgotten: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for every one.

  35. lili:) says:

    Thank you everyone for your Christmas wishes. I hope you all had had a great Christmas as well.


    Hi Dan, thank you for introducing the youtube video about “Christmas: Behind the Curtain”. I had to hasten my brain in order to follow it because the rate of speech was so fast.

    Atheist Seth Andrews put forward so many arguments in order to convince us that “Christmas isn’t exclusive to Christians”, and “Christmas belongs to everyone”.

    I really like his saying.

    About the word “cheerio”: I think I spotted it somewhere recently and thought it would be nice to have a change and used it to say “Goodbye”.

    Your comment about it intrigued me to look up the word from the dictionary. Now I understand that it’s not a common word in the US. It’s an informal word and so might be I’d better avoid using it, just in case.

    Finally, about the word “donation”.
    Please let me borrow the “Donate” page of this website.

    It says:


    How do I donate money?

    If you have a PayPal account or a Visa or MasterCard credit card, go to our donation site.

    What if I don’t want to give you my credit card information and/or I don’t have a PayPal account?

    You can also mail us a check or money order made out to “Center for Educational Development” to:

    Post Office Box 66577
    Los Angeles, California 90066-0577

    How much should I donate?
    Any amount will help us, even a small one! If many people donate a small amount, we will be able to continue these podcasts.

    Why do you need this money again?
    We want to continue to provide podcasts via iTunes and on our website. But it costs money to produce (make) these podcasts, and to improve them. Your donation helps pay for our expenses in running the podcast and to make them better!

    Thanks to Our Donors!”


    According to “”, a donation is “a voluntary gift (as of money or service or ideas) made to some worthwhile cause”.

    Although I couldn’t find anywhere in the Internet that the word “donate” has a negative connotation, I wouldn’t like to accept “donation” neither. Accepting a gift is hard enough, accepting a “donation” must be awful.

    Might be I should stop thinking about this word. If Jeff use it, we can follow.

    Many thanks again Dan for making sure we only use proper words.

    Best Regards


  36. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Tania, can I ask you a favor? I’d like you translate me this: An increasingly popular way in business to increase both a workforce’s productivity, and their motivation, is a three point plan of action called ‘ABR’. Analyze. Benchmark. Reward. Specialy, the word BENCHMARK. Thanks for the help.

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