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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, December 01, 2008

Secret Santa Lands In Mississippi's Capital City

December 21 will be the tenth anniversary of Secret Santa's visit to Jackson. He, of course, was the native of Calhoun County, Mississippi, who had a gigantic heart of pure gold. He would swoop into a community and pass out $100 bills to needy people-- one bill to some, multiples to others.

In late 2006, after operating anonymously for years, and facing the cancer that would shortly end his life, he finally revealed that he was Larry Stewart, a businessman from Lee's Summit, Missouri. He encouraged others to continue his legacy, and it lives on today.

Click here for The Clarion-Ledger's December 21, 1998, article on Secret Santa. Below is Tony Plohetski's piece from The Clarion-Ledger of December 22, 1998, "Spirits soar as Secret Santa hands out lots of $100 bills."

Rent, clothes, car repair, bus ride home, all from Santa's bag

Skipper Hendrix, one of the city's estimated 3,700 homeless, will get to take a $59 bus ride to his Missouri home to see the four children and two grandchildren he hasn't seen in years.

Emma Lewis will have enough to pay her $375-a-month rent next month and still have enough left over to buy her two teenage daughters new clothes.

Plavise Patterson will be able to fix her wrecked car.

And it's all thanks to a man they don't even know.

The three each received hundreds of dollars Monday morning from a stranger who placed crisp $100 bills in their hands, said "Merry Christmas"-- and then dashed away.

"I want to go home real bad," said Hendrix, 57, whose family lives in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. "I know it will be cold up there, but, oh well."

The kind stranger calls himself "Secret Santa," but has also been dubbed by some as "Santa Cash, the Human Automatic Teller Machine." The north Mississippi [Calhoun County] native began his tradition of doling out large volumes of cash in 1979 after becoming a cable industry millionaire. He usually hands the cash out near his current Kansas City, Missouri, home but chose his native state this year to give away $25,000.

"There will be people here in Jackson for years to come who will say, 'out of nowhere came this guy to help us over a hump,'" Secret Santa said before beginning his expedition. "It helps restore some of the faith in humanity that there is still kindness out there."

Secret Santa did his good deed wearing a gray cap, a red flannel shirt and white over-alls-- an attempt to disguise his identity. He insists on being unnamed in the newspaper, and he quickly bids farewell to his recipients, leaving them baffled, confused, and sometimes emotional. He does it, he says, before they have a chance to realize what happened and ask questions.

Secret Santa's gift comes with no strings attached, but he does ask a small favor. "The only thing I ask is that some day they may have an opportunity to help someone, and I ask that they do it."

Why Jackson? "Jackson is not unlike a lot of urban areas," Secret Santa said. "There's always a need, and you can cover a lot of people. I wanted to come back to Mississippi."

Secret Santa invited a Clarion-Ledger reporter and photographer to participate in his daylong trip through the city's disadvantaged areas, where he gave away $25,000 to about 150 people. Some received as much as $500, while others walked away with $100.

Secret Santa was also accompanied by a uniformed Jackson police officer and two gun-toting agents from Security Support Services in Jackson. The group traveled at least 40 miles throughout the city Monday.

"We were very impressed he wanted to do it, and after meeting the man, I'm even more impressed," said Charlie Saums, president of Security Support Services.

The chiming of cash registers and quiet shopping at the Salvation Army Thrift Store was replaced with joyous shouts from 15 customers Monday morning.

Secret Santa entered the store, and quickly moved from one shopper to the other. All received $100.

The gift took all by surprise. The store was filled with cries of "Oh, my Lord," and the question of disbelief, "Is this real?"

The customers rushed to the center of the store, each discussing how they'd spend their money.

Patterson, 36, of Jackson began to sob as she stared at her cash. She said she'd recently been plagued with financial burdens like having her car wrecked, and she was forced out of her home by her landlord in October. It's a daily struggle to feed and clothe her 11-year-old son, Aundreus.

"When you put God first, things like this happen," Patterson said. "I'm going to spend it on whatever I want. It's a gift."

"I've got a sick sister and I'm going to get her a gown or a robe," said the thrift store's cashier, Eleanor Cable. "It's a blessing from the Lord, and may the Lord bless him and keep him to do good for someone else."

The next stop: Mike's Wash and Save Coin Laundry on Bailey Aveue [which runs from downtown into northwest Jackson], where Charlie Mae Boone became the proud owner of $100.

Boone works at Hudspeth Mental Retardation Center as a recreational officer and said she plans to use the money to buy shoes for her mother, a diabetic whose feet regularly swell beyond her shoe size.

"It's just a blessing," said Boone with an ear-to-ear grin, "and I thank God. What else can you say?"

Donnell and Roshaun Garrett were washing clothes for their mother when Secret Santa dropped $100 in their palms.

The children, ages 11 and 12, said they'd never held a $100 bill-- much less owned one.

"I might go to the mall and buy my mom something for Christmas," Donnell Garrett said.

While Secret Santa did several one-stop droppings, he also visited several needy homes like Lewis' on Hillside Drive off McDowell Road [in south Jackson]. Several recipients were in parking lots like Evelyn Perkins, 58, who said she was "just at the right place at the right time" sitting outside Wash Stop at 1062 Raymond Road [in south Jackson] waiting for her clothes to dry.

Secret Santa doled out $200 to Ray Smith of Baton Rouge as he was working on a vehicle outside a Jitney Jungle [a grocery supermarket] parking lot.

Lewis, who received $500, is a cafeteria worker and frequently relies on help from her older sons to pay rent on the house where she and her two daughters live.

"I was trying to cook, and he just knocked on the door and asked if I rent here," Lewis, 52, said. "I thought he may be the guy who owns the house. Then I got nervous and asked who he was, and he said, 'Santa Claus' and gave me the money."

Shouts erupted from Lewis' house.

"We're so excited we can't think," Lewis said. "There really is a Santa Claus."

For more on Secret Santa, click here, here, here, here, and here.

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