90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Good Deeds in Hard Times

How one man’s small, secret gifts of charity during the Great Depression kept a world afloat.

Some of the 11,000 jobless in Cleveland register for temporary work, Nov. 13, 1930, during the Great Depression. (AP)

In the deepest depths of the Great Depression – December, 1933 – a little note appeared in an Ohio newspaper: If you’re in trouble, write me.

And many, many did. For shoes. A coat. For mercy. For food. To save their family from despair. And back came checks, under a pseudonym.

Investigative journalist Ted Gup saw the desperate letters and figured out that the benefactor was his grandad.

It’s a remarkable story of giving in hard times. It is relevant right now. A national story, a personal story, and a secret gift. Plus, we look at what’s up with billionaire philanthropy today.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Ted Gup, longtime investigative journalist for the Washington Post and Time. He’s now chair of the Department of Journalism at Emerson College. His new book is “A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness–and a Trove of Letters–Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression.” Link here to an audio excerpt.

Helen Palm, a 90-year-old woman from Canton, Ohio, whose letter written as a young girl (see below) during the Great Depression found its way to writer Ted Gup and became part of the story in “A Secret Gift.”

Stephanie Strom, reporter for the New York Times. Read her article, “Pledge to Give Away Fortunes Stirs Debate.”

Here’s Helen Palm’s letter:

Dear Sir,

When we went over at the neighbors to borrow the paper I read your article. I am a girl of fourteen. I am writing this because I need clothing. And sometimes we run out of food.

My father does not want to ask for charity. But us children would like to have some clothing for Christmas. When he had a job us children used to have nice things.

I also have brothers and sisters.

If you should send me Te[n] Dollars I would buy clothing and buy the Christmas dinner and supper.

I thank you.

HELEN PALM

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Mar 4, 2015
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a keynote address at the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, in Santa Clara, Calif.  (AP)

Hillary Clinton’s week of bad headlines: about her emails and foreign money going to the Clinton Foundation. We’ll dig in.

Mar 4, 2015
This photo taken July 31, 2012 shows a "tiny" house April Anson built in Portland, Ore. For the past couple of months, 33-year-old Anson and her friends have been planning, measuring, sawing and hammering their way toward completion of what might look like a child’s playhouse. (AP)

Tiny houses, micro-apartments. They’re hot. Americans are downsizing.

RECENT
SHOWS
Mar 3, 2015
This July 21, 2014 photo shows strawberry banana chia breakfast smoothie in Concord, N.H. Breakfast habits in America are changing, leading to dramatic shifts in business strategy. (AP)

Food guidelines are changing. So is what we eat for breakfast. Cereal? Out of favor. Eggs? Maybe OK. And all kinds of new menus. We’ll look at Americans and breakfast.

 
Mar 3, 2015
A group of community activists in San Francisco, CA celebrate that city's February 2014 embrace of the Fair Chance Campaign's efforts to alter background checks on employment and housing for convicted criminals. (Courtesy All of Us Or None)

Is it time to stop asking job applicants if they’ve been convicted of a crime? We’ll look at employment and unemployment after prison.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Answers To Your Questions On Black Holes
Tuesday, Mar 3, 2015

Yale University’s Priyamvada Natarajan answers your black hole questions in full. (Well, most of them.)

More »
Comment
 
Want To Listen To Lead Belly? Here’s Where To Start
Monday, Mar 2, 2015

Loved our show on Lead Belly, but unsure on where you should start to listen? Jeff Place of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage offers his best picks for a beginning Lead Belly listener.

More »
Comment
 
Our Week In The Web: February 27, 2015
Friday, Feb 27, 2015

We won’t lead you into a debate on the color of #TheDress (it’s blue and black, end of debate), but we do wonder about the blurring lines between so-called Internet culture and general popular culture. Also, it’s snowing in Boston. Still.

More »
Comment