Anonymous Santa giving away $100 bills in Sebago

Posted Dec. 21, 2010, at 2:04 p.m.
Elizabeth Brown hugs a secret Santa after she received a surprise gift of $100 outside a food pantry, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, in Sebago, Maine.  A Portland, Maine, businessman in the red suit whose identity is kept secret, plans to hand out $20,000. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
AP | AP
Elizabeth Brown hugs a secret Santa after she received a surprise gift of $100 outside a food pantry, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, in Sebago, Maine. A Portland, Maine, businessman in the red suit whose identity is kept secret, plans to hand out $20,000. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Patricia Ange holds a $100 bill that she received from a secret Santa at a food pantry, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, in Sebago, Maine.  A Portland, Maine, businessman in the red suit whose identity is kept secret, plans to hand out $20,000. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
AP | AP
Patricia Ange holds a $100 bill that she received from a secret Santa at a food pantry, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, in Sebago, Maine. A Portland, Maine, businessman in the red suit whose identity is kept secret, plans to hand out $20,000. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

SEBAGO, Maine — Christmas arrived early Tuesday with an anonymous Santa delivering $100 bills to Mainers in need.

A man dressed in a fake white beard and a red Saint Nicholas suit handed out envelopes with crisp $100 bills at a food pantry in Sebago, 25 miles west of Portland. He planned to give out a total of $20,000 over three days at food pantries, a Goodwill store, a Salvation Army store and a bus station in southern Maine to bring joy to those less fortunate.

At the food pantry, people said the money would go toward heating oil and Christmas presents.

Muriel Gentley, 63, said the money would allow her to splurge on Christmas — by turning the heat in her home up 3 degrees, to 68 degrees.

“I’ve always believed in Santa and I brought up my children to believe in Santa,” said Gentley, who is disabled. “This is a wonderful surprise for everyone here. Nobody was expecting it.”

This is the second year an unidentified Portland businessman has funded the giveaway, with his son making the deliveries. The benefactor was inspired by Larry Stewart, a Kansas City man who anonymously gave away $100 bills to strangers each Christmas season until his death in 2007.

Arriving in a Chevrolet Suburban, Santa distributed more than a dozen envelopes stamped “Secret Santa” containing a $100 bill and a note offering season’s greetings and an explanation of the giveaway.

“We’re hoping we can inspire others,” he said. “We want others to ask themselves if they can give during the holidays and carry out this charitable giving we’re doing here.”

The food pantry in this town of about 1,500 people is open once a month, giving away food and clothing to dozens of people who are experiencing tough times.

Elizabeth Brown, 50, gave Santa a big hug and a kiss after getting the $100 bill. Brown is unemployed, and her husband, a machinist, has seen his hours cut at his job.

“We haven’t even bought each other a Christmas gift for 20 years,” she said, choking back tears. “Maybe this year we can swap gifts.”

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