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Secret Santa

December 20, 2010


Stewart gave approximately $1.3 million over 27 years of giving.

 In 1971, Larry Stewart had run out of money. The company he was working for, selling items door to door, had gone out of business. He had not eaten in two days. Stewart went into the Dixie Diner and ordered a big breakfast. Even though he did not have a penny to his name, he thought he could eat, then pretend he had lost his wallet.

            Fortunately for Stewart and thousands more, the diner owner, Ted Horn, walked by Stewart and picked a $20 bill off the ground and told Stewart he must have dropped the money. At first Stewart thought he was incredibly lucky, but later realized Horn had intentionally dropped the money by Stewart to give to him to help in his darkest hour.

            This act of kindness inspired Stewart for the rest of his life. He later moved to Kansas City and became a multi-millionaire in cable television and by starting his own long-distance telephone company. Along the way, Stewart decided it was time to start paying back his gift by playing Secret Santa.

            Every Christmas season, Stewart would dress in red and carry around a stack of $100 bills. He would travel to area pawn shops, shelters, and other locations to give a little help to those who were the most needy. He kept it all anonymous.

            Two days before Christmas in 1999, 69-year-old retired donut maker, Jerry Brooks, was looking for a bargain at a thrift store. He found a 45-cent scarf to keep him warm, which was helpful since he only had 75 cents. While shopping, Brooks ran into Stewart and then left the store with $100.75.

            A Missouri woman wrote that she fled her abusive husband and had taken refuge in a shelter with her children. She was so depressed that she was planning to kill herself. One day when she returned to the center she found $1,000 on her dresser. The money and the hope it represented helped her get back on her feet and happily remarry.

            In 2006, Larry Stewart died. But before his death it is estimated that he gave out more than $1.3 million anonymously. He did reveal himself before he died in order to help encourage others to take up the tradition. A few top executives in the Kansas City area has kept up the tradition, and there is a new Secret Santa in town. He estimates that he will give out $100,000 this year.

            It may have been easy for Stewart to give because he was a multi-millionaire, but he had started giving money before he earned his incredible wealth. I think it was this ability to get so much joy from giving that allowed him to be successful. When a family or individual has made enough to provide for his family, additional money can be either a blessing or a curse.

            Those who learn to give joyfully have found the blessing that money can bring. If you are able to provide for your family and have a little extra, I encourage you to start a new tradition this Christmas. Find a family in need and provide a Christmas meal or toys for their children. If you do not feel you have the money to hand out, spend a little bit of your time helping those less fortunate.  If you want, become your own Secret Santa with a $5, $20, $50, or $100 bill and give it anonymously to someone who looks like they could use it more than you.

            These small acts of kindness will help you realize the joy money can bring and can provide hope for some of the most desperate. The gifts you give may not be repaid to you, but I believe many of them will be paid forward. There also may be a chance the gift does come back to you. In 1999, against his wishes, Ted Horn, the diner owner who gave Stewart the $20, received an envelope from Stewart with $10,000 in it. Now that was a good investment.

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