Secret Santa Surprises Storm-Ravaged East Coast with $100 Bills

Around $100,000 Given to Random Strangers

Yahoo Contributor Network

Struggling residents of New York and New Jersey got early Christmas presents from someone simply known as the Secret Santa. An annual tradition started by a wealthy Kansas City businessman in the 1980s continues as a man dressed in red dished out happiness in $100 increments to people on the East Coast still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. The Associated Press followed the man's rounds this holiday season.

What does Secret Santa do exactly?

This year, the anonymous Kansas City philanthropist went to places such as Staten Island, N.Y., and Elizabeth, N.J. His face is never photographed. The man handed out $100 bills to anonymous strangers shopping at thrift stores, staying a VFW shelters and getting by with very little since the hurricane. The red-clad stranger told the AP he gave away $100,000 to random people in need throughout the storm-ravaged region.

Why does Secret Santa give away money?

The anonymous donor told the media outlet, "The money is not the point at all. It's about the random acts of kindness. I'm just setting an example, and if 10 percent of the people who see me emulate what I'm doing, anybody can be a Secret Santa!"

How did the philanthropist make his rounds?

Secret Santa came and went thanks in part to a police escort. In one Salvation Army store, a single mom of a 2-year-old girl received $400. A man received $300. An elderly woman received a crisp $100 bill. Some members of the police escort wore red berets that red "elf" on the front. Secret Santa also wore a red beret and was directed to various areas by his helpers.

What is the origin of this Secret Santa?

The current Secret Santa carries on the legacy of Larry Stewart, a millionaire from Lee's Summit, Mo., who died in early 2007 of esophageal cancer. The Associated Press revealed he made his fortune in the cable television industry and started giving away money in December 1980. In 2006, Stewart identified himself because he was in the final stages of cancer. The philanthropist personally trained four other Secret Santas to carry on his work.

Where has Secret Santa struck in the past?

USA Today reported Stewart handed out $25,000 in $100 increments to New Yorkers in December 2001, mere months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2002, the man traveled to Washington to hand out money. The reason that year revolved around the D.C. sniper attacks. Stewart also gave away money in Chicago, California, Florida and Mississippi. Stewart estimated he gave away $1.3 million over 26 years before his death at age 58.

Perhaps the most prominent giveaway was in 1999 when the millionaire gave $10,000 to Tom Horn of Tupelo, Miss. Horn was the man who inspired the legend -- in 1971, he gave Stewart $20 that forever changed his life and started the legacy of the modern day hero known as Secret Santa.

William Browning, a lifelong Missouri resident, writes about local and state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Born in St. Louis, Browning earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri. He currently resides in Branson.

View Comments