LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
A newspaper in northeast Ohio is sending out checks this Christmas season, checks for $100 each to people who wrote explaining why they need help. The money comes from donations, and the fund tops $48,000. And for the city of Canton, it's a retelling of a Christmas legend.
NPR's Noah Adams reports.
NOAH ADAMS: On a Wednesday night if you're a guy in Canton, Ohio and you like to sing, join the Hall of Fame Chorus named after the pro football Hall of Fame in Canton.
Unidentified Man #1: Tenors lead. Let me hear your first notes.
(Soundbite of pitch pipe, singing)
Unidentified Man: Now watch my hands. Jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle. Keep it driving.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, all the way. Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh, over the fields we go laughing all the way. Bells on...
ADAMS: Another tradition in Canton, people say let's see what we can do to help someone.
Unidentified Man #2: I was able to go to a Y camp because somebody donated money to the YMCA. So I still donate to the YMCA, only because somebody else led the way for me.
ADAMS: This man and two of his buddies put up a total of $15,000 for a Christmas fund. They wanted to bring a treasured story back to life and pay tribute to the memory of Samuel J. Stone.
In the Depression winter of 1933, Stone, a Canton merchant, sent $5 checks to 150 families. He used a pseudonym, not revealing his real name, and the donors this year also wanted to stay anonymous.
Unidentified Man #2: If in fact somebody says or wants to say thank you, the simplest way to do it is to send the money and do the same thing. This has nothing to do with us. This has to do with Sam Stone and what Sam Stone put together, and then turning it out into the community.
ADAMS: In Canton, they've been talking about Sam Stone and his $5 checks since this past Thanksgiving. The story had been hidden since 1933. But Stone's grandson, Ted Gup, found the letters and wrote a book titled "A Secret Gift."
There was a big story about all this in the newspaper, which is called The Repository. The three Canton friends put up $15,000 to revive the idea, and lot of other readers started sending in their money.
Jeff Gauger is the executive editor.
Mr. JEFF GAUGER (Executive Editor, The Repository): Chamber of Commerce will hate me, but things are grim here. It's a high unemployment rate. We had a story in November that fully 25 percent of the children in our county live in poverty. That translates into people in need, who hundreds of them have now sent us letters whose need is so acute that $100, merely $100 will make a difference for them.
Ms. CHRISTY NELSON: (Reading) To whom it may concern, I read the article in the paper about funds to be donated to families in need. I was hoping I could get some help. I am currently an out-of-work, single mother of two, as well as a full-time nursing student at Stark State Technical College. All of my utilities are in a past-due state and scheduled for disconnection.
(Soundbite of a car engine)
ADAMS: Right up next to the interstate, in a two-story subsidized apartment for which she pays $4 a month rent, Christy Nelson lives with her 15-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. They have nothing for Christmas.
Ms. NELSON: Six hundred dollars I spent on school books. Then their school supplies and school clothes came out of the school check. And then my car broke. This is rough right now.
ADAMS: Christy Nelson has decided not to take a full-time job so she can finish a nursing degree. Her money is only from grants and loans a bit of family help. But often, it's not there at the right time.
Ms. NELSON: It's really hard for me because I feel like I'm not doing my job as a mom. I can't make sure that my kids have a TV to watch. And that, you know, I mean, I have food. I get help from the government with food and things like that. So they're fed and they're taken care of, but I can't provide a Christmas.
ADAMS: More than seven hundred letters have come in. A priest, a rabbi and a minister agreed to help The Repository newspaper. They would read everything and decide who should get the money.
Christy Nelson says if there's a check in her mailbox, she'll pay the TV, Internet and phone bill.
Noah Adams, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
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