Terminal cancer patient Herman Smithey III left a Kansas City-area hospital wondering how he would pay $100 for antibiotics to treat his recent bout with pneumonia.
The answer walked through the retired police officer's door Wednesday clad in a red coat and cap _ a Secret Santa bearing a gift of $2,000.
Smithey's house was the first stop for a man who is picking up where Kansas City's original Secret Santa, Larry Stewart, left off. Stewart had spent years anonymously handing out $100 bills, sometimes in stacks, around Christmastime before he died in 2007.
By day's end, the new Secret Santa had doled out about $14,000 across the city.
"Around here, the word we use is miracle. And that's what that was," a teary-eyed Smithey, 47, said of his visitor, who _ like Stewart until shortly before his death _ also wants to remain anonymous.
Smithey's monthly pension comes to $1,100; his prescriptions already cost about $1,000. He recently was told esophageal cancer had spread to his brain.
"That was very touching for me," the new Secret Santa said. "You know, because Larry had esophageal cancer too."
The new Secret Santa had been out several times with Stewart, who gave away about $1.3 million over more than two decades. When Stewart was hospitalized before his death at age 58, the new Secret Santa told Stewart he would carry on the tradition.
He has. And then some. The new Secret Santa has hand-picked about 20 others who now anonymously hand out their own money in December in cities nationwide, including Phoenix; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Ventura, Calif., and Tulsa, Okla.
Altogether, they expect to give out between $250,000 to $300,000 this year.
"But we don't really work with a budget," Kansas City's Secret Santa said. "We work from the heart."
All the Secret Santas ask when they hand over $100 bills _ sometimes two or three or even 20 at a time _ is that the recipient do something kind for someone else. Cash is good, but so are hugs and nice words.
Detroit's new Secret Santa also hopes to remain anonymous, but said during a phone call Wednesday that she plans an outing in her hometown before Christmas. She's been on other cash-giving trips with Kansas City's Secret Santa and found the experience "like a drug."
"When you see the looks on the people's faces and they say there was no hope in my life. But now they have it. It's a great feeling," she said.
After giving thousands of dollars Wednesday to people in several thrift stores in Kansas City, Kan. _ drawing tears, laughs, hugs and shock _ Santa's last stop was an old downtown building where a police detective recently spent about $20,000 of his own money to open a boxing gym for city kids. Many of them are at-risk, Greg Conchola said, simply because "there's nothing for them to do."
"Oh my God," Conchola uttered he accepted $2,000 from Secret Santa, who said he has a special place in his heart for law enforcement.
"I usually tell folks you got to pass the kindness on," Secret Santa told Conchola. "But in your case, just keep doing what you're doing."