On the Road for the holidays with Steve Hartman
“On the Road with Steve Hartman: Home for the Holidays” will air on CBSN on December 24 and 25 at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. ET. It’s also available on the free CBS News app.
Over the years, Steve Hartman has put people in the spotlight who are spreading holiday joy to others. One of the greatest examples is Secret Santa, an anonymous, wealthy businessman who hands out $100 bills to random strangers across the country. Viewers have seen the happy endings, but it wasn’t until 2016 that we learned the humble beginnings.
The legend of Secret Santa can actually be traced back to a single act of kindness in Houston, Mississippi. It was 1971 and a homeless man had wandered into town, starving. The stranger stopped at the Dixie Diner and ordered the biggest breakfast on the menu.
His plan was to sneak out before the bill came. But the owner, a guy named Ted Horn, sensed what was about to happen. So he snuck up behind the guy with a $20 bill in his hand and said, “I think you may have dropped this.”
The homeless stranger was a man named Larry Stewart, who vowed that if he ever got rich, he would return the favor in spades. Larry eventually made millions in cable and long distance and became the first Secret Santa, his identity revealed only after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2006. The current Secret Santa is Larry’s good friend. Over the last decade, the new Secret Santa has run the total to more than $2 million.
He doesn’t always act alone. Once, in 2014, he turned to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department in Kansas City, Missouri. Secret Santa had them handing out cash to strangers. Most people weren’t just blown away, they were moved to tears.
Another unlikely helper was Moses Elder. Most people ignore the homeless, but once a passerby paid Moses some attention last year, he would pay them back in cash. His mission was financed by Secret Santa and most of the money went to strangers. But he gave one man from church $400. A homeless mother got $500. In the end, Secret Santa gave Moses some money for himself, but he said that reward pales to the joy he received from helping others.
“We changed a lot of people’s lives. But I believe my life was changed the most,” he said.
Home for the holidays
The very best presents don’t come with price tags and don’t require batteries. When Santa showed up in 2011 at Tar River Elementary near Raleigh, North Carolina, he not only brought gifts, he brought every second-grader the exact toy they’d asked for in their letters. Every kid, that is, but Bethany Arnold, who refused to ask him for a single toy.
“Dear Santa, my daddy is in Iraq. Could you bring him home for Christmas?” she asked.
Bethany’s dad, Wyndal Arnold, had been in Iraq working on the country’s much-needed electrical infrastructure. Over a period of two years, she had only seen him for less than two weeks. But Santa was able to make her wish come true and Wyndal surprised her, making it the best gift of all.
The gift of music
For Charlie and Dorothy Hale of Rochester, New York, every day is like Christmas morning. Bright, shiny woodwinds and worn out old trumpets, brown cardboard packages tied up with strings — used musical instruments are their favorite things.
Charlie and Dorothy started buying broken instruments a few years ago after Dorothy took a class in instrument repair. They’re both in their 80s. But they’re still active in their passion to restore instruments to their former glory and then give them away by the hundreds. So far, the Hales have donated nearly 1,000 instruments to the Rochester School District through the Rochester Education Foundation.
The Hales seemed oblivious to the impact they’ve had. But the lead teacher for the Rochester arts department said the impact has been huge.
“It’s unbelievable for two humans to care so much about other people’s children,” said Alison Schmitt.
Remembering the past
One family in South Carolina is proudly looking to the future while never forgetting their past. As late as 1964, Bo and Lake Giles were still toiling like indentured servants. Their children said they were by far the poorest family around. They said they even prayed, “God, get us out of this situation.”
But even as those prayers went unanswered, the Giles children knew there was a better life out there, because it was so tantalizingly close. From the shack where they lived, they could see another house. It’s really just a modest home. But to those sharecropper’s kids picking cotton, that place seemed like the Taj Mahal.
That’s why it felt like liberation when a half a century later, the Giles family moved across the street into that house. Some of the siblings pooled their money to buy the property, which they’re renovating to use for family reunions and holiday gatherings. Eventually the plan is to put the house in a trust so future generations of Giles will know the story and learn the lesson that poverty doesn’t have to beget poverty, that through education and determination, poverty can breed success.
This holiday season, many American’s will be unwrapping presents. But for families like the Giles, the greatest gift is the only gift that truly keeps on giving — the sacrifice of those who made all this possible.
To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com.