The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

22 December 2006

Become a Secret Santa

Larry Stewart was interviewed on the Anita Anand "Up All Night" programme on BBC Radio Five Live in the early morning of 22nd December 2002. His story is inspirational.

In 1970, Larry Stewart was cold, hungry, jobless and homeless. He walked into the Dixie Diner in Houston, Mississippi with not a penny in his pocket, and ordered a large meal. When it was time to pay, he started looking for his wallet, pretending he had lost it. The owner of the diner, Ted Horn, realised what was happening, took a $20 bill, came over to where Larry was seated, got down on the floor and peered under Larry’s chair, and pointing to the $20 bill, said to Larry “This is what you must have been looking for; you must have dropped it”. The $20 was quite a considerable sum back in 1970.

This act of kindness to a stranger changed Larry’s life. He vowed to God that if he was ever in a position to help others, he would do it in a way that would allow them to keep their dignity, as Ted had done to him.

Larry Stewart is now a successful businessman living in a Kansas City suburb, who has made his millions in cable TV and long-distance telephone services. Each December, he roams the streets giving money away. He started with $5 and $10 gifts, but now he hands out $100, sometimes several bills at a time, to people in thrift stores, diners and parking lots.

He made his first gift in 1979, at a drive-in restaurant, the week before Christmas just after he had been fired from his job. It was cold and the parking attendant wasn’t warmly dressed. `I think I got it bad. She's out there in this cold making nickels and dimes,'" he said.

He gave her $20 and told her to keep the change. "And suddenly I saw her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks. She said, `Sir, you have no idea what this means to me.'” Larry went to the bank, took out $200, and drove around looking for people who could do with a lift. That was "my Christmas present to myself."

Every year since then in the run up to Christmas, Larry has played “Secret Santa” giving away over $1.3 million, keeping his identity secret. But in 2006, after a course of chemotherapy, he decided to “come out” and reveal his identity and to encourage others to become Secret Santas.

This is the Secret Santa mission:
• To show by example that a simple, single act of kindness can change an individual's life for a day or maybe even forever.
• To urge others to give without the expectation of anything in return.
• To show others how to have an impact on the world with acts of kindness that begin in their community.
•To create a Worldwide Network of Secret Santas who carry out Acts of Kindness and share their experiences and ideas with our readers.

You can join the Society Of Secret Santas (SOSS). There are no dues. The only requirement is that Secret Santa members share their acts of kindness with so they can be published. Joining is simple. Just say, "I want to be a member of the Society of Secret Santas".


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