SEBAGO – When Elizabeth Brown heard that an anonymous “Secret Santa” was seeking ideas for good locations to hand out $100 bills, she fired off an e-mail suggesting the Warming Hut food pantry on Route 114.

“I told him about the town of Sebago and how everyone is close,” Brown said. But she never expected he would actually show up.

So on Tuesday morning, Brown was as stunned as everyone else lined up in a light snowfall outside the food pantry when the Secret Santa appeared.

The donor, who handed out $10,000 last year outside the Goodwill Industries store in Portland, announced this month that he would double the amount to $20,000 this year, and would give out money in other communities if people e-mailed suggestions to him.

The donor, a businessman from Portland, said he was inspired by Kansas City’s Secret Santa, Larry Stewart, who spent years handing out more than $1.3 million in cash.

In Sebago, it took a few minutes for the crowd to catch on. Most people immediately pocketed the envelopes that were handed out by a white-bearded figure in a bright-red suit who suddenly appeared in their midst.

That is until Patricia Ange took a peek inside and extracted a crisp new Ben Franklin, causing others to do the same.

“This is awesome,” shouted Charles Pettigrow of Sebago.

The man in the Santa suit said he was representing the donor — who may or may not have been among the three occupants of a nearby SUV with New York license plates, all wearing sunglasses and large fake noses.

If he was, he missed the teary scene inside the food pantry, where his largesse was beginning to sink in.

“This will help us out so much,” said Erica Labrecque of Sebago.

Labrecque said she had never heard of the Secret Santa.

She and her 4-year-old daughter, Elana, each received an envelope — and enough money for a real Christmas, Labrecque said.

Tears streamed down the face of her sister, Erin Labrecque, as she gave Santa a hug for her 3-year-old daughter, who has brain cancer.

Many of the recipients said the money will go toward fuel to heat their homes this winter.

“It’s incredible, not what anyone expected,” said Muriel Gently of Sebago.

The food pantry workers said they were equally surprised. “We thought the press was there to do a routine story on the pantry,” said Jim Libby.

The Warming Hut got its start two years ago, when School Administrative District 61 donated a portable classroom to the town to run a food pantry, supported by a $36,575 Community Development Block Grant and another $15,300 in public and private donations. It serves about two dozen families on a regular basis.

The Secret Santa, who also had stops scheduled Tuesday in Lewiston and Auburn, isn’t done yet.

He plans to hand out money in the Portland area in the next few days.

“We are trying to inspire others,” said his representative.

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]