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Angels On The Streets

During the Great Depression a Christmas mystery occurred in my hometown of Canton, Ohio.

A local business man, using the name of B.Virdot, placed a tiny advertisement in The Canton Repository offering those in need an opportunity for financial help if they wrote a letter explaining their circumstances. The response was overwhelming.  B. Virdot had planned on giving $10.00 checks to 75 people, but he had to double the number to 150 people and halve the amount of the check to $5.00   Interestingly $5.00 is roughly the equivalent of $100.00 today, with one exception:  You could buy a whole lot more for $5.00 in 1933.

The mystery of B. Virdot was solved a few years ago and brought to light in an excellent book, The Secret Gift, by Ted Gup. It is well worth reading. This story of anonymous giving by Sam Stone, a.k.a. B. Virdot, got me thinking about my own charitable giving.

While attending a business meeting in Chicago, I overheard a conversation about giving and its potential as a team-building exercise.

That really intrigued me. It was the middle of July, but a seed had been planted that, along with the story of B. Virdot, would come to fruition later that year.

Flash forward to December. I was having lunch with a very close friend, Barry Adelman. We were discussing the holiday season and how tough things were for people who were out of work. The conversation led to the B. Virdot story and then I told Barry about my idea for a version of B. Virdot, but with a twist. The twist was that instead of giving money away to people who wrote letters we would do it face-to-face, one person at a time.

After a lengthy discussion of how we could accomplish this, Barry and I decided to involve the employees in our companies. We formulated a game plan and a process for setting the proper stage to tell our employees what was going to happen.

On a Friday two weeks before Christmas, we each held a company meeting to review the past year and talk about the goals we were setting for the coming year.

At the end of that meeting we showed a You Tube video about Ted Gup’s The Secret Gift that had aired on the CBS Sunday Morning Show. My employees watched the program but were totally confused as to why I chose to show this video and how it would have any relevance to them.

At the conclusion I informed them that they were each going to receive an envelope with a $100 bill in it and they were required to give the money to someone worse off than themselves.

The room went dead silent as I explained the rules of engagement:

1.  Give this money to someone who really needs it. It could be a complete stranger.

2.  They must do this over the weekend.

3.  On Monday at 9 a.m., we would all meet and they should  be prepared to tell the other members of the company who they gave the money to, why they chose the person they did and what, if anything, happened afterward.

Wow! What an experience for all involved.  Some of my employees included their families in the discussion of who to give the money to and/or how to find the person that qualified. There were moving stories and incredible experiences shared at Monday morning’s meeting.   Each story was different.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with something new, I made three mistakes that Monday morning.

1. I did not video tape the meeting.

2. I did not have enough Kleenex on the tables, as people were very emotional.

3. I underestimated the team building and closeness that occurred that morning.

Barry reported a similar experience with his employees. We named our project Angels on the Street.  We figure we gave away $25,000 that first year, thanks to four other companies who jumped on board.  Last year the number was close to $40,000, as the program expanded to other states. This year we have four more businesses on board.

Who knows how many angels will be on the streets this Christmas?

Gary Sirak is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.

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