Generosity and anonymity

I am not — by virtue of DNA — an optimist, and I’ve made a good living not being one. Still, when I opened up this morning’s Star Tribune to read that not enough people are donating to the Salvation Army or Toys for Tots or the food shelves, I couldn’t help but notice that thousands and thousands of people are. People are still often doing the best they can to help people they don’t know.

Buried deep — far too deep — in the story was Kathy Ware, a public health nurse from Inver Grove Heights, who can’t throw as much money into the Salvation Army pot this year as in past years, so she’s helping out in another way — she’s taking her turn standing by the kettle ringing a bell.

And that’s our DNA. Generosity and anonymity go hand in hand.

In today’s New York Times, Ted Gup, a professor of journalism at Case Western Reserve University, writes about growing up in Canton, Ohio. Around Christmas 1933, a local newspaper ran the story of Mr. B. Virdot , who vowed to help 75 unfortunate families, men and women “who might otherwise “hesitate to knock at charity’s door for aid.” He was said to be a man who was prosperous, lost it all during the Depression, and then returned to prosperity.

“…to me, the story had always served as an example of how selfless Americans reach out to one another in hard times,” Gup wrote. “I can’t even remember the first time I heard about Mr. B. Virdot, but I knew the tale well.”

This past summer, Gup finally found out who the Mr. B. Virdot was.

It was his grandfather.