KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s not about the money. It never has been.

The crisp $100 bills, stamped in red ink with the words “Secret Santa,” that fly from his pocket in profusion are just the means to an end.

The “sleigh rides” that Secret Santa takes every year around Kansas City are about the smiles, the tears and the hugs. They are about feeling good and making somebody else feel good.

They are about the ripple effect that one small act of kindness toward a stranger can have on the community and the world.

On Tuesday, as he does each year, Secret Santa took a band of elves, ranging in age from 13 to 68, to spread their cheer. This time the group made its way to south Kansas City and Grandview, Mo.

Among them were Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte and County Executive Frank White, the Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer.

This is the 12th year the current Secret Santa has been spreading Christmas cheer since Larry Stewart, the original, asked him to be his successor. Or as Secret Santa says, “hornswoggled” him into it.

Stewart started the tradition because of a time in his life when he was down and hopeless but was touched by the kind act of a stranger.

Stewart decided he would do the same for others if he could. Financial fortune allowed him to do just that.

Stewart was dying of cancer when he asked the current Santa to carry on. “I wish I could have helped more people,” Stewart told him on his deathbed.

Like Stewart, the current Secret Santa works to maintain his anonymity.

“It’s not about the person,” he has said many times. “It’s about the deed.”

But while Secret Santa may have gone unrecognized as he made his rounds Tuesday, his helper Frank White did not. White was noticed at each stop.

“Hey, I remember the home run you hit in the World Series, 1985, the hardest home run you ever hit,” one man said to White, who quickly corrected him.

“It was the longest one I ever hit,” he said.

White, like all of Santa’s elves, was handed $100 bills and instructed to find someone to give them to.

“It’s a great feeling to be part of what for some people may be the best day of the year,” he said.

Besides the usual stops at secondhand and discount stores in depressed parts of town, Santa and his elves paid a visit to the men and women living in tiny homes for veterans at 89th Street and Troost Avenue.

“We love you and we are proud of you,” Santa told them.

One resident, Marine veteran Jason Fisk, was overcome with emotion. Not too long ago he was living in a patch of woods.

Now, he was proud to show Santa and others the inside of his cozy and comfortable home.

“I can’t believe somebody is doing this,” Fisk said. “A lot of us out there don’t think that anybody cares.”

When Santa enters a store he moves quickly, looking into the faces of shoppers until he finds his target. He has an uncanny ability to find people who really need the help.

But often, after they are handed a bill or two or three, they say they are thinking about someone else who needs it more than they do.

They are people like Jen Mills, a stay-at-home mother of five, who was given $100 for each of her children.

She bawled, then composed herself.

“We will pray about who needs this more than we do,” she said.

That’s the kind of ripple effect that makes Santa smile.

“It never gets old,” he said.

Tribune News Service