Cause UnWired

Today’s New York Times has a wonderful column about peer-to-peer philanthropy: an effort in Ohio to provide targeted aid in response to requests from needy folks needing a little assistance over the holidays in very tough economic times.

But don’t look for it online: the year was 1933, and the economic downturn was the Great Depression.

Yet the system used by one mystery philanthropist in Canton, Ohio was amazingly like today’s red-hot micro-philanthropy models.The story is a compelling one – not the least for the surprise ending (you’ll need go read it) – here’s how it starts:

IN the weeks just before Christmas of 1933 — 75 years ago — a mysterious offer appeared in The Repository, the daily newspaper here. It was addressed to all who were suffering in that other winter of discontent known as the Great Depression. The bleakest of holiday seasons was upon them, and the offer promised modest relief to those willing to write in and speak of their struggles. In return, the donor, a “Mr. B. Virdot,” pledged to provide a check to the neediest to tide them over the holidays.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of letters for Mr. B. Virdot poured into general delivery in Canton — even though there was no person of that name in the city of 105,000. A week later, checks, most for as little as $5, started to arrive at homes around Canton. They were signed by “B. Virdot.”

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