Secret Santas: Profiles in Anonymous Holiday Generosity

Dec 7, 2010· 2 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
The bearded mask of an anonymous holiday benefactor. (Photo: Johannes Eisele/Getty Images)

Armed with a smidgen of discretionary income and the Internet chops to online shop, anyone can become a run-of-the-mall family Santa Claus these days. But it takes a special individual to give anonymously to complete strangers.

It takes a Secret Santa.

To unleash your inner altruistic St. Nick, TakePart presents three notable John Doe Kris Kringles. We tip our red stocking hat and say, simply, thank you.

SECRET SANTA: Larry Stewart / Kansas City, Missouri

ANATOMY OF GIVING: In 1979, Larry Stewart was fired from his job the week before Christmas—for the second year in a row.

Down and out, Stewart did what every red-blooded American male would do—he went to a drive-in restaurant in Houston, Mississippi, and ordered food from a shivering waitress wearing roller skates.

"It was cold, and this carhop didn't have on a very big jacket, and I thought to myself: 'I think I got it bad. She's out there in this cold making nickels and dimes,' " said Stewart to ABC News.

He gave the waitress $20, and watched as she began to tremble. Stewart was so touched by her reaction that he has doled out a staggering $1.3 million over the past 26 years to random strangers, often in $100 bills.

In 1995, Stewart, who made millions in the telecommunications business, appeared on Oprah—disguised in a Santa Claus outfit, of course.

Only in 2006 did Stewart finally reveal his identity. Afflicted with esophageal cancer, which ultimately took his life in January 2007, Stewart wanted to ensure the giving continued after his death.

Has it ever. Inspired by Stewart, four Secret Santas have been crisscrossing Charlotte, North Carolina, this season, distributing c-notes to the less fortunate, reports The Sun News.

SECRET SANTA: “Pete” / Evansville, Indiana


That’s the question staff members at the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center in Evansville, Indiana, ask themselves this time of year whenever the phone rings.

They’re waiting for their Secret Santa, known only as “Pete,” to tell them where he’s hidden his annual holiday donation.

Since 1990, Pete has donated nearly $68,000 to the center, which serves 5,000 adults and children in need of physical and medical rehabilitation, reports Readers Digest.

This year, Pete’s donation was 30 crisp 100-dollar bills, which he left inside a Santa cookie jar near a Dumpster outside the center.

Like Stewart, Pete’s selfless giving has spawned copycats.

The first recipients of Pete’s donations, Kaitlin and Emilee Thompson, who have cerebral palsy, were inspired to start a lemonade stand to raise money for the Easter Seals.

SECRET SANTA: “B. Virdot” / Canton, Ohio

ANATOMY OF A GIFT: During the run-up to Christmas in 1933, an offer appeared in The Repository, a now defunct newspaper in Canton, Ohio.

For those willing to write in about their Great Depression-induced financial hardships, an anonymous donor known only as “Mr. B. Virdot” promised a modest gift, according to CBS News.

As the years became decades, the true identity of Canton's Secret Santa remained a mystery. Until 2008.

That’s when Ted Gup, B. Virdot’s grandson, received a tattered suitcase from his grandmother. Inside, he found a handful of dog-eared letters addressed to “B. Virdot.”

Gup, a former journalist with The Washington Post, put two and two together and posthumously unmasked his grandfather. B. Virdot was really Samuel Stone, who fled to America to escape persecution as a Hungarian Jew, and prospered as the owner of several clothing stores, reports The New York Times.

To both chronicle the Great Depression and honor his grandfather's generosity, Gup wrote a book, A Secret Gift, and MC'd a reunion for families of B. Virdot's recipients, held in Canton this past November.