How one Secret Santa inspired many others to “pay it forward”.
During the winter of 1971, young Larry Stewart from Mississippi was at the end of his rope. The college dropout was out of both work and money. He’d been staying in his car for more than a week and had not eaten for two days when he walked into Dixie Diner and ordered a big meal.
When his bill came, he claimed to have lost his wallet. When the owner walked to the counter, Stewart braced for the worst.
To his amazement, though, the owner dropped a $20 bill into his hand and said, “You must have dropped this.” The drifter decided right then to honor the stranger’s kindness by helping others in need whenever he could.
Fast forward to Christmas a decade later in Kansas City, Missouri. Over the holidays, a mysterious stranger started showing up in bus stations, thrift stores, laundromats, and skid-row motels, handing out $100 bills to people down on their luck. With a hurried “Merry Christmas”, the Secret Santa would walk away before the startled recipient of the gift could ask who he was.
This went on for 26 years. Finally, in 2006, the Secret Santa revealed himself. He was none other than Larry Stewart, a successful businessman who had made a fortune in telecommunications. He estimated that he had given away more than 1.3 million dollars over the years to needy people all over the United States. After 9/11, he went to New York. In 2002, he went to Washington , D.C shortly after the region was traumatized by sniper attacks. In 2003, he travelled to San Diego, California to help others after the San Diego fires.
Why had the legendary Secret Santa decided to reveal his identity? Stewart had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted other Secret Santa’s to continue his work. He died in 2007, but others have continued the tradition. Every holiday season, Secret Santa’s fan out all over the United States. Like Larry Stewart, they hand out $100 bills to people in need. The only request is that the recipient pass on the kindness in whatever way they can.