TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas City's Secret Santa is at it again, this time focusing his annual good cheer on Kansas' capital city.
A reporter for the Kansas City Star tagged along recently as Secret Santa followed his long tradition of handing out $100 bills to strangers in Topeka places where the hurting and downtrodden gather, including a shelter and thrift store.
At each stop, the arrival of Santa and his "elves" was met with quizzical stares. By the time they left, there were tears of joy and shouts of "praise Jesus."
Local police and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt accompanied the Secret Santa.
"This is such a heart-warming experience," Schmidt said. "Such raw generosity."
The Secret Santa tradition began years ago with a man named Larry Stewart. Stewart was touched by a stranger's kindness at his lowest point. He later became wealthy and decided to share his good fortune with strangers.
When Stewart was dying of cancer, he asked the current Santa to carry on the mission. He has done so for 11 years.
Today's Santa has always remembered what Stewart said on his death bed: "I wish I could have helped more people."
The current Santa insists on anonymity.
"It's not about the person," he said. "It's about the deed."
But occasionally, reporters are invited along in hopes of inspiring kindness in others. And sometimes, Santa has kindness shown to him.
Debi Widman of Topeka was shopping at a thrift store when a man she didn't know walked up and told her he liked her coat. The stranger offered her $50. Then $75. Then $100.
"I don't want any money," she told him. "I'll give it to you."
That's when Santa revealed himself. He gave Widman $100 and she kept her coat.
"God bless you," she told him.
Widman's gesture helped make Santa's day.
"Those with the least," he said, "are always willing to give the most."
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com