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An anonymous Santa Claus continues dead friend's tradition of giving out cash to the poor
[December 21, 2007]

An anonymous Santa Claus continues dead friend's tradition of giving out cash to the poor

(Associated Press WorldStream Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) KANSAS CITY, Missouri_Susan Dahl was homeless, hungry, tired and broke when a tall man in a red coat and red hat sat down next to her in the downtown bus station of this Midwestern city.

Dahl, 56, who had just completed a harrowing 10-hour bus trip through sleet and snow, said the man prodded her quietly, asking where she was going and "if everything was all right."

"Actually, I was rather crabby, and I told him 'No. I need an ice pack for my back and I can't get one," she said between sobs after the man left on a recent afternoon. "He wanted to know why I couldn't buy food, and I told him I don't have any money. I'm homeless."

"He said, `Here's a $100 bill ... and this is in the memory of Larry Stewart.' "

Secret Santa is back.

Larry Stewart, Kansas City's original Secret Santa who anonymously plied city streets each December doling out $100 (70) bills to anyone who looked like they might need a lift, died of cancer at age 58 earlier this year. But his legacy lives on.

Over about a quarter century, Stewart quietly gave out more than $1.3 million to people in laundromats, diners, bus stations, shelters and thrift stores. He said it was his way of giving back at Christmas for all the wealth he had in his life, and the generosity he had known during his own hard times.

He did not want his name known, he did not want thanks or applause. He just wanted the fun of getting some of his raucous friends together, telling some bad jokes and creating that special alchemy that comes when need, generosity and Christmas collide.

Last December though, Stewart acknowledged who he was, and used his last few months while he battled cancer to press his message of kindness toward others. He also trained some friends in the ways of Secret Santa.

This Christmas, a friend who told Stewart in the hospital that he would carry on for him, and who like Stewart prefers to remain anonymous, is out on the streets handing out $100 bills, each one stamped "Larry Stewart, Secret Santa." Between Kansas City and several other cities this Christmas, the new Secret Santa will give away $75,000 (52,000) of his own money _ mostly in $100 bills.

"I didn't want to be a Secret Santa," says the new Secret Santa, a business consultant who lives in the Kansas City area. "I wanted to give Larry money. But last year, he said I had to hand it out myself. So I did, and I got hooked."

This new Secret Santa talks about Larry Stewart to just about everyone he encounters.

"Have you ever heard of a man named Larry Stewart?" he asks before handing out $100. Depending on who he's talking to, the new Secret Santa might launch into Stewart's story of needing money for food, and a man giving him $20 and telling him "You must have dropped this."

Or he might just say Stewart was a man who believed in making people happy by giving them money they did not have to ask for, apply for or wait in line for.

"There was this fella named Larry Stewart," he 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.

"Thank you very much," Secret Santa said. "You're a good man."

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," he says. 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."


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Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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