KANSAS CITY, Mo — Susan Dahl had spent four months homeless in Colorado and just been on a harrowing 10-hour bus trip through sleet and snow. Hungry and broke, all she wanted to do was get back to family in Minnesota.
That’s when a tall man in a red coat and red hat sat next to her at the downtown bus station, talked to her quietly and then slipped her $100 on that recent December afternoon.
For years, Larry Stewart had been a secret Santa, for it was only last year that he revealed his identity. His appearance has always been quite different from that of an ordinary Santa. This is his picture…but earlier this year at the age of 58, he died from cancer. Through the years in his secret way, he had given away over one million dollars. Anonymously he walked the streets, rode buses, saw people in need and handed out $100.00 dollar bills.
Now other people have taken up the joyful task, and are walking our world handing out joy.
“There was this fella named Larry Stewart,” one of the new Santa’s tells a man in the bus station. “He was an old friend of mine. He was called Secret Santa, and every year he would find a few people who might need a little money and he would ask that you pass on the kindness.”
People respond differently to the gesture. Some cry. Some scream. A rare few even say “No thanks.”
Others take the money and offer their own gifts, like Robert Young, who was homeless and had only 20 cents in his pocket. When Secret Santa gave him $200, Young, 50, took out an old notebook and ripped out a song he had written.
“It’s yours now,” he told Secret Santa, who thanked Young, and carefully tucked the pages into his pocket.
The new Secret Santa has also started a Web site, and is trying to recruit other Secret Santas across the country. “Larry’s dream was for a Secret Santa in every city,” Kansas City’s Santa said.
There are now a couple apprentices, with more candidates turning up all the time. But, he says, you don’t have to be willing to hand out money to be a Secret Santa.
“Anyone can be a Secret Santa,” he says. “You don’t have to give away $100. You can give away kindness. Help someone.”
What say we join this club? Maybe it will be money you hand around, maybe it will be a plate of cookies, or a simple gift, or a chunk of time to sit beside a hospital bed. Secret Santas…the spirit of Christmas.