Thursday, December 06, 2007

Secret Santa Story

This story from Arizona is great:

Secret Santa hands out $20,000 in Phoenix
Homeless, needy get $20 to $1,000 to celebrate the holidays

A mystery Santa came early to Phoenix on Tuesday to dole out money to people who needed a holiday boost. Nearly $20,000 was given away by Santa and his crew of elves.

It's part of a holiday tradition that began 28 years ago when Larry Stewart, a Kansas City businessman, started handing out $100 bills after he had made his first million. Stewart died earlier this year, but his legacy continues. Phoenix is the first of five cities nationwide that will be visited this year. About $150,000 will be anonymously given away.

It's one of those "pay it forward" ideas. And it reminds me of the country song by Clay Walker titled Chain of Love. Here are the lyrics:

He was driving home one evening,
In his beat up Pontiac
When an old lady flagged him down,
Her Mercedes had a flat
He could see that she was frightened,
Standing out there in the snow
'Til he said I'm here to help you ma'am,
By the way my name is Joe

She said I'm from St. Louis,
And I'm only passing through
I must have seen a hundred cars go by,
This is awful nice of you
When he changed the tire,
And closed her trunk
And was about to drive away,
She said how much do I owe you
Here's what he had to say

You don't owe me a thing,
I've been there too
Someone once helped me out,
Just the way I'm helping you
If you really want to pay me back,
Here's what you do
Don't let the chain of love end with you

Well a few miles down the road,
The lady saw a small cafe
She went in to grab a bite to eat,
And then be on her way
But she couldn't help but notice,
How the waitress smiled so sweet
And how she must've been eight months along,
And dead on her feet

And though she didn't know her story,
And she probably never will
When the waitress went to get her change,
From a hundred dollar bill
The lady slipped right out the door,
And on a napkin left a note
There were tears in the waitress's eyes,
When she read what she wrote

You don't owe me a thing,
I've been there too
Someone once helped me out,
Just the way I'm helping you
If you really want to pay me back,
Here's what you do
Don't let the chain of love end with you

That night when she got home from work,
The waitress climbed into bed
She was thinkin' about the money,
And what the lady's note had said
As her husband lay there sleeping,
She whispered soft and low
Everything's gonna be alright,
I love you, Joe.

From Wikipedia, on paying it forward:

The concept was already used by Benjamin Franklin, as described in a letter to Benjamin Webb, dated April 22, 1784:

I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.

The term "pay it forward" was coined, or at least popularized, by Robert A. Heinlein in his book Between Planets, published in 1951:

The banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. "But eat first — a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer."His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, "Uh, thanks! That's awfully kind of you. I'll pay it back, first chance." "Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it."

And then there's also the movie, Pay It Forward, with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment.

When people donate because they want to, they feel good about it. They can have a direct connection with the people they are helping. From John Stossel's 20/20 show on "Who Gives and Who Doesn't":

There are a million ways to give to charity. Toy drives, food drives, school supply drives…telethons, walkathons, and dance-athons.

But just who is doing the giving? Three quarters of American families donate to charity, giving $1,800 each, on average. Of course, if three quarters give, that means that one quarter don't give at all. So what distinguishes those who give from those who don't? It turns out there are many myths about that.

And from "Cheap in America?":

America is anything but cheap.

Carol Adelman at the Hudson Institute has studied how much Americans give privately in foreign aid. She says it's a myth that Americans are stingy.

"We're one of the most generous people in the world, and that's because of our private philanthropy," she said.

Adelman published her findings in the institute's "Index of Global Philanthropy," which found that while the U.S. government gave about $28 billion in foreign aid in 2005, privately, Americans gave $33.5 billion.

On top of that, immigrants in America send about $62 billion abroad to family members and home towns. That's anything but stingy.

When they donate because the government makes them (think social welfare, high taxes, redistribution of wealth), they usually don't feel good about it (when have you voluntarily paid more taxes than you had to?). And they don't know who's being helped, if anyone, in what country, and in what way. Private charities make sense, government doesn't. But that's just my opinion.

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