Christmas Hero: The Philanthropic Secret Santa

The cameraman shot the interview from an angle designed to obscure the face of his subject.  News shows use this tactic to hide the identity of whistleblowers or drug dealers or criminals.  But this man was not hiding from the law or his bosses.  He's hiding his face because he's giving away a lot of money – he is a Secret Santa.

Evening News has a regular feature on the Friday broadcast called “Assignment America” in which reporter Steve Hartman tells stories of uncommon courage or simple humanity or something uniquely American.  The December 14th story seemed like a gift in a week filled with headlines about doping baseball players and millions of American's living without heat due to the ice storm that paralyzed the Midwest.  The feature, which closed the newscast, was a positive story about the generosity of one man that has inspired others, and the gratitude of many who have been touched by a random act of kindness.

Hartman's feature on the Secret Santa from Kansas City told the tale of a businessman who has pledged to give away $75,000 of his own money every year.  His approach is unique.  He walks into places like thrift shops or laundromats, looks for people who seem down on their luck and hands them $100.  The recipients are always shocked.  Hartman's story included interviews with homeless people who had benefitted from the Secret Santa's generosity.  Upon receiving $100 one homeless woman said she was “the happiest person in the world.”

HARTMAN: Secret Santa, who wishes to remain secret, will only say he is a businessman from Kansas City. His plan is to cross the country, going into dozens of thrift stores, laundromats, and bus stations, and going up to hundreds of strangers who seem like they could use a Franklin.

SANTA: Would you mind taking that for me.

HARTMAN: Or two.

SANTA:  I'd like to give you this, $200.

HARTMAN: By Christmas, he'll have given out $75,000 worth of hundred dollar bills.

HOMELESS MAN:  Is this for real?

SANTA: It's for real, buddy. It's yours and you can keep it.

HOMELESS MAN: God bless you.

SANTA: God bless you.


The Secret Santa featured in Hartman's piece was the friend of the original Secret Santa, Larry Stuart, who gave away more than $1 million over 25 years.  He died of esophageal cancer last year.

Hartman reported that Secret Santa has only one codicil to his $100 gifts: that the receivers “do a random act of kindness for someone else some day.”  Hartman also reported, “This idea is spreading. Three other wealthy businessmen contacted the Secret Santa about being the Secret Santa in their towns. And they're watching him and seeing how he gives out the money.”

The media crush surrounding Christmas usually includes stories about consumer spending and popular toys, or standard features about homes with extravagant light displays.  There are occasionally stories about ACLU lawsuits regarding nativity scenes on public property.  These kinds of stories are predictable and almost become the “news soundtrack” of the season, which is why this feature by CBS stood out.  It was a story reminiscent of the original St. Nicholas, the Wise Men bearing gifts, the spirit of generosity and good will that is the heart of Christmas. 

Secret Santa summed it up best when he told Hartman: “The Secret Santa lives in every one of us.  It is just a matter of letting him out.” Kudos to Hartman and CBS for letting this story out.  Perhaps it will inspire more people to unleash their inner Santa.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.