Video: Kansas City's 'Secret Santa'

updated 12/22/2006 7:52:16 PM ET 2006-12-23T00:52:16

With the precision of St. Nick, he swoops in.

"Merry Christmas! This is from the Secret Santa."

He has spent 26 years handing out Christmas cheer in Kansas City in the form of $100 bills and then vanishing.

What does he get out of it?

"The joy of knowing I was able to lift somebody's spirits from one of hopelessness to one of hope," he says.

This Secret Santa is 58-year-old businessman Larry Stewart, who made millions in cable television and long-distance telephone service. He's given away more than $1 million over the years.

But this year he's gone public. One reason? To encourage others to embrace the spirit of giving.

"It doesn't have to be $100 bills," says Stewart. "It could be baking some cookies for the lady across the street."

This year, Stewart is facing a difficult challenge of his own. He has cancer.

But it's not the first time this Santa's been on the ropes. In 1971 he was homeless and slept in his car for eight days, and a Mississippi diner owner gave him $20 when he hadn't eaten in a day and a half.

He vowed never to forget, and has since scoured laundromats and thrift stores seeking those in need.

"If you're driving through a parking lot, for example, and you see a lady trying to stuff five kids into an old beat-up rusty car, then it's a no-brainer," says Stewart.

When he finds them, the stealth Santa moves in, and the surprised beneficiaries are thankful.

"[$100 will help] a lot," says one woman. "I'm a single mom and I just went through a divorce, and I've been having a really hard time, so that meant a lot to me."

Stewart begins chemotherapy in the new year and promises a fight.

"Secret Santa is going to be around for a lot more Christmases!" he says.

For as long as he's able, this "Not-so-Secret" Santa vows to keep on giving. And for him, that's the best gift of all.

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