Santa disappeared just as quickly as he arrived, leaving behind a dozen shocked people clutching envelopes containing $100 bills and wondering aloud how they were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

“It’s just so nice to see this. It’s so wonderful,” Cheryl Dalton, an employee at Still a Good Cause Thrift Shop in Portland, said as she watched Santa hand envelopes to customers. “A lot of the people who come in here are very needy. Sometimes they just come in to get out of the cold.”

Secret Santa on Tuesday continued his annual tradition of popping up around Portland to press crisp $100 bills into the palms of unsuspecting recipients, often in places like food pantries and community centers. He said he’ll hand out $20,000 this week, bringing his total over the past eight years to $160,000. On Tuesday, he stopped at the nonprofit thrift shop and the Sagamore Food Pantry in Portland.

No one knew Santa was coming until he walked through the door. At Still a Good Cause, the employees and volunteers working inside were shocked as Santa moved quickly through the store, handing them envelopes and wishing them a merry Christmas.

The store’s staff members cheered when customer Richard Lade walked through the front door in time to be greeted by Santa. Like many of their customers, the $100 would be a big deal to the Portland man, they said. Lade, surprised by Santa’s gift and the cameras pointed at him, said it would make a big difference and help him buy the things he needs to get by.

“It’s always great giving back to people, especially this time of year,” Santa said. “It’s always great seeing how people react to it. It’s one of the best parts.”


Secret Santa will hand out money to people at three more locations in the Portland area on Wednesday and Thursday. The spots change every year and remain secret until Santa arrives, but he does take suggestions through the Secret Santa Portland Facebook page.

The man behind the white beard and red suit takes care to remain anonymous, although he said Tuesday that he is from the Portland area.

The Santa usually speaks through his publicist, Lisa Palacio of the New York City communications firm JConnelly. Palacio said she could provide no details about Santa, including where he lives or where the money he gives away comes from.

Secret Santa said on his Facebook page that he hopes the giveaway plants a “seed of hope in these difficult times for those in desperate circumstances” and sparks an interest in others to pay it forward and give what they can to help others.

“But remember that everyone can perform inexpensive or free random acts of kindness. Hold a door, help someone with their bags, pay ahead for the car behind you at the drive-in,” Secret Santa wrote. “Whatever you can do, it will be greatly appreciated.”

This year, Secret Santa Portland has apparently inspired another anonymous donor – dubbed Secret Santa Maine – to give away gifts to people this holiday season in other parts of the state. Secret Santa Maine will begin his first season of giving on Thursday, according to his Facebook page.


Before he left the Portland thrift shop, Secret Santa Portland left behind 10 additional envelopes. He asked employees to help him pay it forward by giving them to the next 10 customers. The staff thanked him over and over, telling him about the needy seniors and homeless people who frequent the shop in the winter to buy hats and gloves.

Outside, Santa walked briskly down Forest Avenue, pausing only long enough to hand envelopes to three people outside of Congress Square Plaza, an apartment building that is home to low-income seniors and adults with disabilities.

Mary Stonebreaker was standing by the door, bundled up against the cold and waiting for a friend, when Santa handed her an envelope stamped with “Secret Santa.” The money will help her catch up after spending more money than she wanted to for a warmer winter jacket and a trip to Chicago to see her son for Christmas.

“I’m just so happy. I can’t believe it happened to me,” she said.

Mark Wakefield and Chip Land couldn’t believe their luck when Santa handed them envelopes before disappearing around a corner. The two men, who both live at Congress Square Plaza, were helping a social worker carry in gifts and decorations that had been donated to residents of the building.

Wakefield, who is a crossing guard at the corner of State Street and Cumberland Avenue and frequently volunteers in the community, said he’ll try to stretch the money out and use it wisely. The first thing he’ll buy is a new pair of sneakers.


“I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.

Lynelle Leclair, the social worker, beamed as she talked to Wakefield about receiving the money. She said he gives generously to others and deserves a special surprise.

“It couldn’t have happened to a better person,” she said.


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