'That's What We're Here For'
Jesus told St. Faustina: "I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere" (Diary of St. Faustina, 743). The following is the story of one man who, out of love, sought to relieve the misery of others:
His name was Larry Stewart. He went from rags to riches to became known as "Secret Santa," the anonymous man who roamed the streets of Kansas City each December and handed out money to people in need.
Mr. Stewart, who had fought cancer of the esophagus, died Jan. 12. But he leaves behind his inspiring example of showing mercy to others, particularly the poor.
In his 26 years as "Secret Santa," Stewart gave away a total of $1.3 million of his own money.
"I see the smiles and looks of hopelessness turn to looks of hope in an instant," he told USA Today, in an interview before his death. "After all, isn't that what we were put here on Earth for — to help one another?"
This past Christmas, Mr. Stewart went public with his identity for the first time as Secret Santa. He did so when it became apparent a tabloid newspaper was going to reveal his name. But, in going public, he hoped his story would inspire others to engage in selfless giving.
"That's what we're here for," Stewart said, "to help other people out."
According to The Kansas City Star, Mr. Stewart "knew this could be his last 'sleigh ride' and wanted to tell people how, years ago, a kind diner owner slipped him $20 when Stewart was homeless and hungry. That gesture inspired him years later to give away his own money."
Although he was a millionaire, Mr. Stewart understood the pain of poverty. His grandparents raised him in the small town of Bruce, Miss. They hardly had money to feed and clothe him.
In a December profile, Nanci Hellmich of USA Today wrote:
In the winter of 1971, Stewart was working as a door-to-door salesman in the little town of Houston, Miss. After the company he was working for went out of business, he ran out of money. He hadn't eaten for almost two days when he went to the Dixie Diner and ordered a big breakfast, then acted as if he had lost his wallet.
Ted Horn, the owner of the diner, who also was the waiter and cook, came over near the stool where Stewart had been sitting and picked up a $20 bill off the floor. "Son, you must have dropped this," he said. "It was like a fortune to me," Stewart says. "I said to myself, 'Thank you, Lord.' "
He paid for the breakfast, left a tip, pushed his car to a gas station and left town. Then it dawned on him: Nobody had dropped the money, but Horn had helped him out in a way that wouldn't embarrass him. "Right then, I just made a promise. I said, 'Lord, if you ever put me in a position to help other people, I will do it.' "
Eventually he moved to Kansas City, where he made money first in cable television, then with his own long-distance telephone company. He was married in the early 1970s and has adult children. (To protect their privacy, he is reluctant to discuss his family members.)
Stewart started helping the less fortunate in 1979. Right before Christmas, he stopped at a drive-in in Independence, Mo., and ordered a hamburger and soft drink. He gave the carhop a $20 bill and said, "Keep the change."
"You're kidding," she said. "No, ma'am. Merry Christmas," he said. She started sobbing and said, "Sir, you have no idea what this means to me."
That felt so good, Stewart says, he went to the bank, got more cash and started giving it away. And his Secret Santa was born ...
Mr. Stewart lived in the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit. When he hit the streets each December, he would hand out $100 bills, sometimes two and three at a time. He also gave money to community causes in Kansas City and his hometown of Bruce.
In 1999, Mr. Stewart visited Mr. Horn, the owner of the diner who first inspired him, in order to repay him for his kindheartedness. He presented Mr. Horn with $10,000 in appreciation of the $20 gift in 1971, according to newspaper reports. Mr. Horn gave much of that money away, after paying medical expenses for his wife.
On a visit last year, Mr. Stewart gave Mr. Horn $1,000 to give away as he wished. Mr. Horn added $1,000 of his own money to the total giveaway that year.
"I tell everybody that it's amazing what one $20 bill has generated," Mr. Horn said in an interview. "He's given away more than $1.3 million, and it's amazing that $20 can have that much effect. He's just a fine Christian man who enjoys giving."
May the examples of Mr. Stewart and Mr. Horn be an inspiration for us all!