With only days before Christmas, an SUV slowly drives through the streets of Immokalee and the man driving spots a woman slowly walking down a residential street. She looks as if she’s having a bad day carrying a grocery bag and making a phone call. The driver stops and gets out of his vehicle with a smile and a Jimmy Buffet Christmas CD.
“Merry Christmas,” says the man, who asked to remain anonymous, as he hands over the CD to the woman along with a $100 bill. The woman is stunned and tears start to stream from her eyes.
“Thank you,” she says over and over.
This is the job of a Secret Santa. A newspaper article about the man who started the Secret Santa, Larry Stewart, inspired the Southwest Florida version of Secret Santa to be like Stewart. When Stewart walked into a diner 35 years ago, he had no money and was down on his luck.
Ted Horn, the diner’s owner, noticed Stewart and handed him a hot meal along with some cash. That simple act of kindness led Stewart to start Secret Santa years later.
The Society of Secret Santas is an anonymous group of individuals from all around the world who perform random acts of kindness to the less fortunate. These Santas donate from their own resources without tax deduction or solicitation. It’s as simple as giving someone some money and wishing them a Merry Christmas while keeping their identity to themselves.
2011 marks the seventh year that this area’s own Secret Santa has been going through various less fortunate neighborhoods in Southwest Florida giving out cash along with a Jimmy Buffet CD called, “Christmas Island.”
“I’m a Secret Santa with a tropical twist,” jokes the man.
This Secret Santa looks for people with families or to those who look like they need it the most. Along with wishing the recipients a Merry Christmas, he asks that they use the money to help one another.
The anonymity aspect of it all is important to him. He does say that it’s been a long road for him to reach his financial success.
“I know what it’s been like to be poor and not know why,” said the Santa.
Now, he deals in the energy business equipped with international travel and acting as a CEO. According to this Santa, he gives out anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 a year during about a week’s time, depending on the business of the year.
“It’s very rewarding,” he says. “It gives you the hope that you play some small role in getting one person a tree or a Christmas meal.”
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Connect with Scott McIntyre at www.naplesnews.com/staff/scott-mcintyre/