Secret Santas Spread Holiday Cheer With Random Gifts – Great Falls Tribune

We have come to expect generosity at Christmas time. Whether it be gifts under the Christmas tree, or a substantial check written to the charity of your choice, the act of giving has come to define the spirit of the season.

Yet random acts of generosity from a complete stranger – that’s a rarer and more surprising Christmas commodity.

Accompanied by a small group of elves, an anonymous Santa distributed good cheer to unsuspecting Great Falls shoppers Wednesday morning. The gifts were not life changing: a rush-hour breakfast sandwich, a few gallons of gas, a couple bags of groceries. But they were all that was needed to spread an honest spirit of good among those lucky few fortunate to receive the gifts.

“I was shocked,” said Paula Schafer as she left Albertsons with a few bags of groceries paid for by Santa.

She laughed at her good fortune, then quietly thanked the anonymous donors who had made her morning a little brighter.

“This is what people should be all about,” Schafer said before walking to her car.

This is the fifth year the group, known only as Secret Santas, have surprised Great Falls shoppers with its random acts of kindness.

“We hope our actions will inspire other people to do good deeds themselves – whatever that might be,” said one unidentified Santa wearing a beard made of white yarn. “It could be buying a cup of coffee for the person behind them at McDonald’s, it could be buying somebody’s groceries, it could be something as simple as shoveling the snow from somebody’s walk.”

“Good is alive in Great Falls, and we love being part of that,” the yarn beard Santa added.

Russ and Lisa Givens had come to Great Falls on Wednesday to pick up a few last-minute items before returning to their home in Dutton. The last thing they’d expected was for Santa to pick up the tab for their groceries.

“He scared the crap out of me,” Lisa Givens said of seeing a man in a bright red suit come running up to her in the checkout line.

The shock didn’t stop Givens from giving Santa a big hug after he’d paid for her groceries.

“We really, really appreciate it,” she told him.

“I sure wasn’t expecting that,” Russ Givens added a few moments later. “I didn’t know what was going on. I saw him coming and thought ‘uh-oh.’ Now I can go out and buy another gift for our boy.”

The morning of random good deeds began at McDonald’s, where Santa stepped in to buy breakfast for 10 people waiting in line. His generosity was infectious, with many people deciding to pay the favor forward to those waiting behind them.

“Somebody said, ‘If I’m getting mine for free, I’ll buy breakfast for the guy behind me,’” the yarn beard Santa explained. “They just kept doing that.”

Gas cards for people filling their tanks at Town Pump, Christmas cash passed out to customers at the the St. Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army thrift stores, and finally groceries paid for at the west-side Albertsons. In total, the small group of holiday revelers handed out roughly $600 in cash and gifts to people with no reason to expect them.

According to the yarn beard Santa, the group’s generosity is made possible by a small group of regular sponsors, each donating somewhere between $50 and $300 to the annual effort. The only preconditions are that the money not be used to pay for alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.

“They don’t want to be directly involved,” yarn beard Santa said of the secret benefactors. “They just want to have fun with it and see the results on the news.”

At least one woman had to be reassured that her gift wasn’t some type of hoax.

“It’s legitimate,” one of Santa’s elves told the reluctant beneficiary. “Just go with it – and have a very Merry Christmas.”

Loading the groceries he’d just been given into his pickup truck, Joe Davidson remarked on how much he enjoys the joy and excitement of children at Christmas time. Then he paused.

Looking down at the bulging plastic bags now arranged on his pickup’s seat, Davidson let out a short giggle.

“I guess you’re never too old to be a kid,” he said.