NEW YORK (AP) — A wealthy Missouri man posing as "Secret Santa" stunned New Yorkers, handing $100 bills to many in Staten Island who had lost everything to Superstorm Sandy.
The Kansas City businessman is giving away $100,000 this holiday season, and spent the day in New Jersey and New York giving away thousands. But he says money is not the issue.
"The money is not the point at all," said the anonymous benefactor on Thursday as he walked up to surprised Staten Island residents and thrust crisp bills into their hands. "It's about the random acts of kindness. I'm just setting an example, and if 10 percent of the people who see me emulate what I'm doing, anybody can be a Secret Santa!"
A police motorcade with sirens took him across the borough, passing a church ripped from its foundations and homes surrounded by debris. At a nearby disaster center run by volunteers, a woman quietly collected free food and basic goods.
"Has anyone given you any money?" he asked her.
"No," replied Carol Hefty, a 72-year-old retiree living in a damaged home.
"Here," he said, slipping the money into her hand.
"But this isn't real money!" said Hefty, glancing at the red "Secret Santa" stamped onto the $100.
"It is, and it's for you," he told her.
She broke down weeping and hugged him.
And so it went, again and again.
Secret Santa started his daylong East Coast visit with stops in Elizabeth, N.J. Keeping close watch over the cash handouts was his security entourage — police officers in uniform from New York and New Jersey, plus FBI agents and former agents from various states. Some have become supporters, wearing red caps marked with the word "elf" and assisting "Santa" to choose locations where people are most in need. He himself wears an "elf" cap and a red top, plus blue jeans.
The group must choose stops carefully, and refrain from simply appearing outdoors in a neighborhood, lest they be mobbed by people hearing that cash is being handed out.