COLUMBUS, Ohio — One of Santa's helpers roamed the streets, thrift stores and coin-operated laundries of the state's capital, making small talk before peeling $100 bills from his pocket and giving them to needy strangers.
"He just said Merry Christmas and gave me $100," said Yvonne Dail, 50. "I don't know what to say except that I needed it. I just got divorced, had my gas turned off and I've been feeling pretty low."
Shannen Messer, 27, had $15 in his wallet Wednesday when Secret Santa gave him and his sister $300 as they shopped at a Volunteers of America thrift store.
"I'm stunned," said Messer, who is helping his sister raise seven children. "He just saved me a whole lot of stress. Christmas is rough. We can sure use the money."
When the day was done, the Secret Santa had handed out $4,500.
"I have a feel for who might benefit from it most," said the Secret Santa, a 61-year-old executive from Kansas City, Mo., who wished to remain anonymous.
The network of Secret Santas was started by another Kansas City businessman, Larry Stewart, who began giving out cash anonymously in 1979. Stewart recently revealed his identity along with the news that he is battling cancer, but the identities of the other Secret Santas he's recruited over the years remains a secret.
The generosity of Columbus' Santa came with one caveat: "Do something nice for somebody this Christmas."