The Secret Santa of Idaho has struck again, for the seventh time. This time, he’s handing out $1 million in checks to people in need in East Idaho.
In 2013, an anonymous donor contacted Nate Eaton, the news director of East Idaho News, wanting his help to distribute $100,000. Eaton and a small team review nominations and choose people who are struggling. Some receive checks. Others get cars. The gifts are often enough to be life-changing.
Over the past seven years, the amount has grown steadily, as have the gifts given out. The pandemic didn’t stop the secret Santa in 2020, and it won’t stop him this year either.
“It’s one person. It’s not a program. It’s not a corporation. It’s not like it’s trust fund or anything. It’s actually a living person who just enjoys giving his money away,” is all Eaton will say about the identity of Secret Santa. He’s the only person who knows.
Past gifts include things like a new car for a kindergarten teacher, $50,000 and a year of pre-paid health insurance for a father who lost his livelihood to an injury, and over $5,000 to a 77-year-old woman who works a 4am paper route to supplement her pension.
Eaton’s favorite gift so far this year has been a $15,000 check for a couple who normally dress as Santa and Mrs. Claus themselves, put out of work by both the pandemic and cancer. The money will help them offset the medical bills that have piled up.
In seven years, Eaton estimates that he, his team, and Secret Santa have been able to touch the lives of 35,000 people. For the larger gifts, he’s gotten to visit the recipients himself, to see their faces as he’s told them of their windfall. Every check is delivered in a homemade, decorated box, wrapped with fancy custom bows for that extra bit of magic.
Of his experience, Eaton says everyone should try it.
“Do something in your community with whatever you have and we promise you’ll feel better if you get to do it rather than having us do it.”