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Truly secret Santas give to needy

Anonymous donations are popular during the holiday season, but some people make it personal by giving to individuals in need.

By Giselle Smith Dec 8, 2011 6:03PM

Your office "Secret Santa" gift exchange may be the bane of your existence in December, but for many people, truly anonymous giving -- the kind not announced at the company party -- is one positive aspect of the holidays.

While most people drop a buck in the red kettle outside the grocery store or donate Toys for Tots, some are playing Santa in more creative and selfless ways, anonymously giving to individual strangers in need.

For instance, in West Michigan on Monday, a woman reportedly walked up to the layaway counter at a Kmart store and asked if she could pay a few customers' layaway contracts, according to WOOD News 8. Her only condition was that the orders include toys.

The woman, who appeared to be in her 30s, looked through the Kmart's 800 or so layaway contract tickets and randomly selected three, on which she ended up paying about $500 -- all but $10 on each ticket.

One of the recipients was Mary Chapin, the mother of a 12-year-old autistic boy. Chapin, who had put $200 of toys on layaway, said the act "restored her faith in people," according to WOOD News 8. Post continues below.

Society of Secret Santas

In Reading, Pa., on Nov. 29, one Secret Santa handed out $100 bills on the street, on a bus and at the bus terminal, according to WFMZ-TV. Accompanied by local police, the donor -- wearing a red shirt and a cap with "Elf" stitched on the back -- planned to give out $20,000 of his own money in $100 bills stamped with "Secret Santa" in red. Reading topped the poverty list of cities with at least 65,000 people in the 2010 U.S. Census.

The donor's only request was that each recipient commit a random act of kindness, too. "It can be anything. It can be a kind word, a good deed, a small helping hand," the Secret Santa told WFMZ.

The man, identified on the social network website Care2 as "a successful businessman," is part of a Secret Santa society inspired by the generosity of Larry Dean Stewart. Homeless for a time, Stewart was the beneficiary of such acts of random kindness before he eventually became successful with cable television and long-distance phone companies.

According to the Secret Santa World website:

The Society of Secret Santas is an anonymous group of individuals throughout the world, performing random acts of kindness to those less fortunate. Using their own financial resources, without a tax deduction and without soliciting funds from others, these leaders share their wealth with those in need. They give from their hearts remaining forever anonymous.

Stewart, who lived in the Kansas City, Mo., area and died in 2007, at one point estimated that he had given away as much as $1.3 million, beginning in 1979, according to USA Today. He revealed his identity in 2006, after a tabloid had threatened to disclose his secret, USA Today reported.

If you're like me, you are probably inundated at this time of year with requests by mail and phone from dozens of charitable organizations. It's difficult to walk into a store or down the street without someone asking for money or a donation.

At the same time, we're reading stories about bogus charities and questionable practices by nonprofit organizations. So giving directly to specific individuals in need sounds like an appealing alternative.

Have you committed any random acts in the spirit of Santa -- or have you been the beneficiary of any -- during this holiday season?

More on MSN Money:

Dec 8, 2011 7:21PM
Just when you think there is no kindness left,  someone shows you that there still is.
Dec 8, 2011 7:02PM
This is a great article and put a smile on my face for the afternoon!  I love the layaway act.....what a wonderful surprise for those families when they come in to pay their bill.
Dec 8, 2011 11:37PM
This is great article, really nice to readOpen-mouthed
Dec 9, 2011 11:16AM
  I was in Wal Mart the other day, and I heard that this woman needed a warm blanket for her daughters bed, this guy just walks up to her says merry christmas and hands her a gift card. What a nice guy!
Dec 8, 2011 7:57PM

More than once, I have had a stranger pay the 10 to 50 cents I lacked from the total on food from McDonalds's. Fifty cents may not sound like a lot, but in these cash-strapped times, it sometimes feels like a million. Just last night, some acquaintances paid for my family's meal at a local restaurant. What a great story!

Dec 8, 2011 8:47PM
it's nice to read this. i work in a grocery store and i found out that after i left work yesterday someone took a salvation army kettle that was outside our store after the bell ringer went into the store to use the bathroom. maybe there's hope for mankind yet.
Dec 8, 2011 7:51PM

Secret santa..... hmmm let me think...... hmmmm  well no one around here,  I haven't yet got anything from any "secret Santa's"  So at least here in, I'll just say the northwest"  there isn't any.....

But Marry Christmas anyhow.....

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