Whitney Thibeault was planning to pawn her television to pay for a ride to Topsham for Christmas. Then, she suddenly came into some cash.
Thibeault was among a couple of dozen commuters who got on the No. 4 bus between Westbrook and Portland on Friday morning and were greeted by a man in a Santa suit handing out $100 bills.
“This is quite amazing,” said Thibeault, whose car was destroyed Wednesday by the flood from a water main break in Portland.
The Secret Santa, a Portland-area businessman who won’t reveal his identity, has been giving away cash around Christmas for the past four years. On Friday, he gave out about $10,000, on the bus, in Sanford and in two places in Portland.
Either he or a helper hands out bills in envelopes to unsuspecting strangers, usually in places where he’s likely to find people who need the money most.
This year, Santa went out of state for the first time. Earlier this week, he took a stack of cash to a Goodwill store in Aberdeen, N.J., hoping to help victims of Sandy.
After this year, he will have given out a total of $80,000. He said about half of the recipients have emailed him to say they have given the money to someone who needed it more — and that’s the point.
Inspired by the late Larry Stewart, who handed out $100 bills for more than 25 years in Kansas City, Secret Santa said he started his own tradition with the hope that it would move others to give.
He knows of a man in San Diego who replicated his Secret Santa act a couple of years ago.
“I’d love to see every city in America have a Secret Santa,” he said while waiting for the bus in front of Shaw’s in Westbrook on Friday.
Tim Fredrick, who had boarded the bus on Prospect Street in Westbrook, was one of the first people to have Santa hand him cash Friday morning.
For the rest of his ride to Monument Square in Portland, he wiped tears from his eyes and shook his head in disbelief.
Along the way, he decided he’d use the money to buy his 15-year-old daughter Ugg boots — a Christmas present she’s been asking for “forever,” he said.
“I couldn’t afford it out of my paycheck, no way,” said Fredrick, who’s a dishwasher and prep cook at Old Port Sea Grill.
Aneta Rosa, riding the bus from Westbrook to her job at Renys in Portland, said she would sock away the money until January, when her daughter who lives in Chicago comes to visit for the first time in five years.
She can take her out to dinner or a movie, or both. “Otherwise, I would not be able to do that,” Rosa said.
As the bus looped from Westbrook to Portland and back, Santa sat by himself in a seat near the front while riders stared at the bills, processing what had just happened.
Some shook his hand or gave him a hug as they got off the bus. Others just wished him a merry Christmas.
“You don’t even know what to say,” Fredrick said, “except, ‘Thank you.’ “
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: