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Free Citizen

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

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Monday, November 20, 2006

Secret Santa Visits Mississippi's Capital City

This is Ruth Ingram's article, "Rags-to-riches 'Secret Santa' sharing wealth," which appeared in The Clarion-Ledger on December 21, 1998.

Miss. native returns, in holiday disguise, to help downtrodden

Dozens of needy Jackson residents today will receive unexpected holiday good wishes-- and a crisp new $100 bill pressed into their palms by an anonymous benefactor who calls himself "Secret Santa."

The Kansas City-area [Lee's Summit] resident and north Mississippi [Calhoun County]native, who keeps his identification secret as he gives cash to those most in need, is repaying a decades-old debt with his generosity.

He's got money enough to travel the nation, putting thousands of dollars into the hands of sometimes desperate and always downtrodden folks who end up at pawn shops, in parking lots of rickety laundromats, or doorways of charity thrift shops.

27 years ago, that could have been him. In 1971, he was homeless in Houston, Mississippi.

"I was living in my car, and the company I worked for went out of business without telling me," he said. "I had no money, no place to go, and no way to get there.

"One morning when I hadn't had anything to eat for a day and a half, I got really hungry and went to a small diner [the Dixie Diner] not far off the square in Houston. I ordered a huge breakfast with all the trimmings, knowing I had no way to pay for it, and I gave it the old 'I must have lost my wallet' trick.

"The guy who was both cook and waiter [as well as owner] came out from behind the counter and reached down underneath where I was sitting. He brought up a $20 bill and said, 'You must have dropped this.' I thought, 'Thank you, Lord,' and my second thought was that I'd better get out of there before the person who dropped the money realized it."

He paid his bill, walked out and broke into a dead run for his car. "I had enough gas to get out of town," he said.

But as he drove down the road, he said, he realized that no one had dropped a $20 bill. "That man knew I was in trouble, and he helped me in a way that allowed me to keep my dignity. At that point, I made the Good Lord a promise."

Fast-forward to the present.

The man who ended up in the Kansas City area not long after making tracks out of Houston calls himself "Secret Santa." He made it big in cable television and other business ventures after that. He's a local celebrity of sorts in the Kansas City area, and his annual benevolence has been chronicled in the Kansas City Star, which also has dubbed him "Santa Cash, the Human Automatic Teller Machine."

His anonymity, he says, "is very important to me."

He's appeared in disguise as a guest on the Oprah show, and in fact wears disguises-- sometimes a Santa suit-- when he makes his rounds as "Secret Santa" in the suburbs of Kansas City and other locales he chooses.

This Christmas, he selected his home state for the first time in almost two decades of "Secret Santa" travels.

"I grew up real poor in Mississippi," he said. He still has family here and plenty of friends.

He and his family "are doing very, very well now," he said. "Each year, I give away cash money of about $50,000."

And he's keeping his promise of 1971.

"I go to laundromats. I go to pawn shops. I go into thrift store parking lots and find people with the hoods of their cars up, people in great need," he said.

Today, he'll probably leave in his wake a trail of tears and whoops of joy.

"It will be a day," he said, with a twinkle in his eye, "of great fun."

Click here for more about Secret Santa.

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