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Secret Santas give $100 bills to complete strangers

By Cameron Steele
csteele@charlotteobserver.com

Regina Brady, a third-grade teacher at First Ward Elementary School, was talking with classroom tutor Niki Herr when a woman in a red cap entered the room. A group of police officers and school officials gathered near the door.

The stranger told Brady’s students that she was here to “do something nice for their teachers.” Then another man, also wearing a red cap, handed Brady and Herr $100 bills.

Brady stared at the $100 bill in her hand as her third-graders peppered her with questions: Is it real? How much is it?

Brady sank to her knees, still staring at the money. She stood up again.

“I’m shocked,” she said. “Oh my gosh, that was amazing.”

Exclamations of surprise, hugs of thanks and tears followed the three red-capped strangers around Charlotte Tuesday afternoon as the husband, wife and daughter passed out more than $10,000 in $100 bills to people throughout the city.

The local family has doled out the money every Christmas season since 2008. The hope, the father said, is that their actions will improve the lives of others during the holidays, even if only by a little bit for a little while.

“We can’t change somebody’s life, but we can give them hope,” the mother said. “We can inspire other people to do nice things.”

The family’s Secret Santa tradition is inspired by the late Larry Stewart, a Kansas City, Mo., businessman who gained recognition for handing out money on a whim to strangers in his city. His efforts grew with his fame into a national movement, and now people in cities across the country have taken on these Secret Santa roles at Christmastime.

Leslie Weathers and Mattie Miller, after-school teachers at a day care next to First Ward Elementary, were walking into work Tuesday when the elves and six police officers stopped them near the door of the building on North Caldwell Street.

“What do we do with this?” Weathers asked after receiving her $100.

Then she began to smile, and exclaimed: “Oh, wow! Thank you.” She and Weathers dropped the bags and boxes they were carrying. They hugged the strangers, the officers and then each other.

“God is good!” Weathers said, laughing. “I can’t wait to talk about this to my students.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers escorted the Secret Santa elves around Charlotte for hours. They had specific stops planned out – First Ward Elementary, a local battered women’s shelter, the YWCA on Park Road and the airport. But they also approached people randomly along the way. Some were people who looked like they might need help, like a man with a baby in one of the front offices at the elementary school.

Other recipients of $100 bills had just happened to cross the elves’ path, like 33-year-old Alphonso Bostic, who was walking along East Seventh Street when two police motorcycles stopped him.

“What church are you with?” Bostic called after the elves as they left him with his $100. His question was left unanswered; the Secret Santas want to remain anonymous and identified themselves only as elves or “Santa’s helpers.”

Many who received the money Tuesday were too shocked in the moments after their visits from the elves to know exactly how they would use it. But at the battered women’s shelter, a 51-year-old wept as she talked about how she planned to spend the money on her grandchildren.

“It will help me get my grandkids Christmas presents,” she said.

Steele: 704-358-5067

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