Shortly before Christmas 1933 in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small newspaper ad offered $10 to 75 families in distress. Readers were asked to submit letters describing their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr B. Virdot. The author's grandfather, Sam Stone, was inspired to place this ad and assist the townsfolk as they prepared for a cruel Christmas.
Moved by the tales of suffering and expressions of hope contained in the letters, which he discovered in a suitcase 75 years later, Ted Gup set out to unveil the lives behind them, searching for records and relatives all over the country who could help him flesh out the family sagas hinted at in those letters. From these sources, Gup has re-created the impact that Mr B. Virdot's gift had on each family. By uncovering the suffering and triumphs of dozens of strangers, Gup also unearths deeply buried details about Sam's life - from his impoverished, abusive upbringing to felonious efforts to hide his immigrant origins from US officials - that help explain why he felt such a strong affinity to strangers in need.