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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Friday, April 29, 2005

Secret Santa Returns to Mississippi

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Every Christmas since 1979, the city's "Secret Santa" has wandered the streets handing cash to those who seem in need.

He was giving out cash on Thursday to people standing on street corners, waiting for buses, shopping in grocery stores, buying gas.

Now a successful businessman, he went to Nick and Betty's Cafe, where Nick used to let him run a tab when times weren't so good. He gave waitress Kim Hoy $300 - one bill for her, and one for each of her children.

"I can't handle this," Hoy said through tears. "This is the first Christmas without my mom. I wasn't looking forward to it."

The man says he usually gives away $50,000, and estimated he was dispensing about $85,000 this year. He keeps his identity secret, in the custom of a "Secret Santa."

"I don't even know that man," said 69-year-old Jerry Brooks, who received $100 as he shopped for a scarf in a thrift store. "I can't believe that. I don't know where he came from, but if he doesn't live to be 500, I'll eat my hat."

As the man continued his tradition this year [1999], he paused to remember why it began.

It was 1971 in Houston, Miss. He was homeless and hungry, and the owner of the Dixie Diner bought him breakfast while saving his dignity.

The man had been working as a salesman for a small company that suddenly went out of business. Left without a paycheck, he lived in his car for eight days until running out of gas and food.

Desperate, he walked into Ted Horn's diner, ordered a big breakfast and tried to think of a way to get away without paying.

Horn, who was his own cook, waiter and cashier, took note of the man's plight. He walked behind the man, reached down as if he'd dropped something and handed him $20.

The man ran as fast as he could, pushed his car to the gas station and got out of town.

On the road, though, he thought about what Horn had done.

This year, he asked a friend to help him find Horn, and went back down to Houston.

He walked into Horn's home to find him holding a magazine article about Kansas City's "Secret Santa." Horn, 81, knew the man in the article was the person he'd helped many years ago.

"I'm that guy who was there 28 years ago," the man said. Horn nodded.

He asked Horn what he thought that $20 bill was worth today.

"Probably like $10,000," Horn said.

A good number, the man said, and handed him an envelope. Inside was $10,000.

"Good God," whispered Horn, who is caring for a wife with Alzheimer's disease after battling cancer and other ailments.

David Horn, his son, was astounded.

"For this man to come down and do this for my father - it's almost more than we can bear," he said.

The man and Horn then went downtown and had lunch, and soon, his giving ways began again. Waitresses and cooks cried out in joy.

Then he went to a laundry, to a drive-in, to the barber cutting hair where Horn's diner used to be, leaving a trail of cash everywhere.


Cash flows on Secret Santa's annual rounds
By DONNA McGUIRE - The Kansas City Star
December 21, 2000

Amanda Green went to work Thursday at a Liberty gas and convenience store, fretting about her landlord's plans to evict her and her two children.

She had just charged a customer 52 cents for hot chocolate when a jolly man in a red flannel shirt darted inside her Conoco store on Missouri 152.

"I had $15 in gas," said the man, who thrust a $100 bill toward Green. "Why don't you keep the change."

"You're not serious," Green replied as the man headed for the door.

"Sir!" she yelled, waving his $85 above her head.

"Keep it," the man said as he disappeared into the frigid winter air.

Tears welled in Green's eyes. She stared after him and swallowed.

Another customer approached.

"You ready for Christmas?" the customer asked before sliding Green another $100. "Have a merry one."

"Oh, my gosh," Green said. "What is going on?

Green had just been helped by Secret Santa and one of his elves.

Secret Santa, a successful Jackson County businessman who wants to remain anonymous, began handing out holiday cash 21 years ago. It's his way of paying back a kindness he received in the early 1970s, when a Mississippi diner owner helped him out of a tough spot.

Before Thursday, Santa already had given away $7,000 this yuletide. He disbursed a few thousand more dollars Thursday and plans to give away more today and Saturday.

Green, who was late with her rent, feared her landlord was going to file an eviction notice Thursday. Although she was more than $400 behind on that payment, she had used some money to buy Christmas gifts for her two children, ages 8 and 6.

A few minutes after Santa and his elf left her store Thursday, the front door jingled again, and Jackson County Sheriff Tom Phillips stepped inside. Phillips often accompanies Secret Santa as he drives through Kansas City neighborhoods, looking for people who need a little Christmas cheer. This day, Santa was making a rare swing through Liberty, where he'd already visited a widow in her apartment, bought a $300 cola at a Sonic Drive-In and dished out $400 to people at a coin-operated laundry.

"Is it true you are in a little trouble?" Phillips asked Green, who nodded. Phillips handed her four more rolled-up bills.

"Merry Christmas," Phillips said before darting outdoors.

Green unrolled the money. Each bill had "100" printed on it. Green burst into sobs. Her hands shook so severely that she was unable to ring up the next purchase, so she asked a co-worker to help.

Handing out Ben Franklins has become a Secret Santa trademark, earning him the nickname "hundred-dollar-bill man."

"I get a whole lot more out of it than I give," Santa said on his lunch break. "I hope they don't pass a law against it."

Driving a salt-encrusted red "sleigh" through Kansas City, Independence, Liberty and Blue Springs, he watched for places frequented by the poor.

Inside a Liberty coin-operated laundry, a mother with a bandaged hand played Battleship with her 12-year-old son. Santa slipped each $100.

Another woman, Judy Libbert, thought the money was a joke. When she figured out it was real, she wanted to give Santa a hug. But he was already gone.

"There's a friend of mine who doesn't have a family to spend Christmas with," Libbert said. "I'm going to take her to lunch."

In Kansas City, a family of three received $300. "We couldn't ask for a better Christmas," the father, Corey Cornejo, said after giving his wife a kiss. "God bless him."

At a small diner, all customers and employees received $100 each.

"If you don't need it, give it to somebody else who does," Santa told them.

Waitress Donna Edwards clutched her chest. "I'm having a heart attack," said Edwards, who had planned to ask her boss for a loan Thursday so she could finish her Christmas shopping.

Near 17th and McGee streets, Santa spotted a man in a wheelchair who was pushing himself, backward, up the street with one foot. Santa handed him $400.

"I heard about this guy," said the man, Norman Anders, who receives $477 monthly in disability payments but has been staying at a homeless shelter. "I can get an apartment now. I'm going to stay off the street. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Secret Santa enjoys the season as much as young children enjoy it. He woke up excited Thursday at 4:12 a.m., nearly two hours before his alarm was to sound. So he got up and headed for the computer.

He wanted to do something special for his first "victim," Christina Thomas, whose husband died in a trench collapse in October. A month later, Thomas lost nearly everything in a house fire.

Friends at the Kansas City Fire Department had told Santa about Thomas. Santa decided to award her a certificate naming her a "John Tvedten Angel," in honor of the Kansas City battalion chief who died inside a burning building in 1999.

He invited three firefighters to join him for the visit. Inside Thomas' small Liberty apartment, the firefighters choked up as Santa read the certificate and told Thomas she had the "responsibility to pass on kindness to others in the same spirit it is given to you."

They had no idea Santa was going to do that.

Then Santa opened a white envelope and handed Thomas $5,000.

Her chin quivered. A tear rolled down her left cheek.

"This is overwhelming," she said as her 11-month-old son, Dakota, watched. "It will help me cope with everything that has happened.

"Thank you. Thank you so much."

To reach Donna McGuire, call (816) 234-4393 or send e-mail to dmcguire@kcstar.com


Alice Lowder-- homeless, bundled against frigid cold in a corduroy jacket, carrying all her possessions in two satchels and a sack-- met an angel Thursday.

Make that two angels. >>>Read more>>> http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/local/10488413.htm




Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal


Secret Santa gives thousands to Las Vegans


Shoppers and employees inside the Goodwill Industries outlet on West Sahara Avenue were a bit surprised Tuesday by the portly gentleman from Missouri who entered the store dressed in red while flanked by ex-FBI agents, pro football Hall-of-Famer Dick Butkus, the daughter of a Las Vegas casino developer and others.

When the self-described Secret Santa began handing out $100 bills, the surprise turned to joyous tears.

The same reactions were felt by employees of a fast-food restaurant, patrons at a Laundromat, and individuals waiting at bus stops. Others, those identified by the unnamed individual's "elves," benefited from a personal visit and received holiday blessings in the form of $100 bills.

"I have seven grandkids at home and this is going to them," Goodwill employee Robin Clark said as tears streamed down her cheeks. "I'm taking it home for them to see because they would never believe it."

Secret Santa did not want his name to be used and was only identified as a businessman from the Kansas City, Mo., area. In all, he planned to give away between $30,000 and $40,000 to strangers in Las Vegas. The gifts ranged from a $100 bill up to several thousands.

More than 30 years ago, Secret Santa said he was befriended by a stranger while broke in Mississippi. He vowed to offer the same sort of assistance to others if he ever had the means. The Secret Santa said he's been handing out holiday gifts to strangers since 1979.

"I've had over a $1 million in smiles," he said through a distinct Southern drawl and not divulging the exact figure he's bestowed upon strangers.

Donna McGuire, a reporter for the Kansas City Star, verified Secret Santa's anonymous endeavors, having covered his holiday gift-giving for 10 years. The businessman mostly hands out money during the holidays in economically depressed areas of the Kansas City community. He appeared on an Oprah Winfrey television show a few years ago in disguise after he took his holiday handouts to New York City following Sept. 11, 2001.

In 2002, Secret Santa handed out money in the Virginia area terrorized by the sniper attacks. Last year, he visited fire-ravaged communities in San Diego.

Last week, according to media accounts, he gave away about $30,000 in hurricane-stricken areas of Florida. He came to Las Vegas to honor his longtime friend, legendary casino host Charlie Meyerson, who died last month. He plans to return to Kansas City to give away another $30,000.

"Charlie was a real secret Santa," he said. "They call $100 bills 'Ben Franklins.' Today, I'm handing out 'Charlie Meyersons.' "

Each of the $100 bills given out Tuesday had been stamped with Meyerson's name and the Secret Santa's Web site, www.secretsantausa.com.

At the Goodwill outlet, Maria Flores expressed in Spanish the joy of being able to help her son with his college studies thanks to the $1,100 given to her by Secret Santa.

Shaunda Banks was "overwhelmed" when Secret Santa handed her $100.

Another Goodwill patron, Roger Marcellus, thought the $100 was counterfeit. "Tonight, I'm going to buy groceries," he said.

Butkus, one of the National Football League's most fearsome linebackers in his days with the Chicago Bears, said he met the Secret Santa more than a decade ago in a casino-sponsored golf tournament. He turned soft describing the day's events.

"We're his elves. We help him find the people who most need his help," Butkus said. "He's such a great guy, and it takes a lot of people to help him do this."

In addition to his random stops, the Secret Santa had a list of more than a dozen Las Vegas families and individuals with various financial hardships. All were identified by Las Vegas law enforcement sources as well as the businessman's Las Vegas connections. Two Metropolitan Police officers accompanied Secret Santa on his rounds.

Arthur Schwartz left his job as a casino porter to care for his wife, Gertrude, who is stricken with multiple sclerosis and is in need of a refurbished wheelchair. Secret Santa showed up at their northwest Las Vegas townhouse and peeled off $4,000 in $100 bills, leaving the money on the kitchen counter.

"We're in shock. We couldn't believe it," Schwartz said, searching for words to describe his feelings. "I knew Charlie Meyerson. This is really so special."

Kevyn Wynn, daughter of Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman Steve Wynn, joined Secret Santa for about 90 minutes on the excursion. Before heading out, they sprayed some of the money with Meyerson's favorite cologne.

"I had always wanted to help Secret Santa," said Wynn, who teared up while talking with some of the Goodwill customers and employees. "He's done this for so long and it made me feel good to help him."

The gifts came in different ways.

Cameron Miller was picking up lunch for his co-workers at the Jack in the Box restaurant on Spring Mountain Road during Secret Santa's visit. When store employees were hesitant about accepting cash from a stranger, Miller spoke up.

"I said if they don't want it, give it to me. So he did," Miller said. "He said, 'Happy Holidays.' "


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