GAINESVILLE, Texas — For the second year in a row, a small radio station in far north Texas is filling stockings at Christmas and filling them with cold hard cash.
But this time, thanks to a second "Secret Santa," the people of Gainesville and Cooke County had more than $20,000 to share.
Last Christmas, Hometown Radio KGAF 92.3 FM and 1580 AM took a flurry of phone calls from listeners eager to explain why they deserved a portion of the $10,000 an anonymous benefactor had given the station. The still un-named person didn't want any credit.
Station manager Steve Eberhart says the person just asked that the radio station give the money to people legitimately in need.
It was so successful that Eberhart says the same Secret Santa was joined by a second one this year bringing the total to $23,000 to give away.
Tuesday morning Eberhart and KGAF morning personality Dee Blanton opened the phone lines again. And the stories flooded in one more time.
"It's been a rough year," one caller said.
"Well my daughter is going through a divorce," another said.
"I'm actually a single mom with a little girl that's four years old," another Gainesville resident said.
"I just recently got laid off," said another.
"Well we're going to give you $500 to help Christmas happen this year," Eberhart would say to a total of 46 people.
They were awarded $500 each.
"Oh thank you. That's amazing," one woman said as she began to cry on the phone.
"Those are real tears right there," said Eberhart. "Tugging at the heartstrings here little Dee this morning."
"There's a lot of stories," program director Dee Blanton said.
"I thank you so much you're just a blessing," another caller said.
A blessing that each person got to pick up that same morning.
"Blessings to them all. They just don't know how much it helps," said Dolly Hobbs when she arrived at the radio station. Her hands shook with both excitement and the cold of a December morning because she now has money to pay her bills.
"Yes," she said. "Because my electric has been off for two weeks."
But what seemed different in this second year of the cash giveaway was the number of people wanting to use the money, not for themselves, but for somebody else.
Gainesville resident Nedra Hendricks, her $500 in hand, told WFAA she will help two local homeless families.
"I was blessed with this so I'm going to bless other people with it," she said.
Gertie Calhoun, 70, is retired and disabled. But she says she will use the money to provide Christmas for her 10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
"It means that God is good," she said. "And God works in mysterious ways."
"Yeah, it's an awesome feeling," said Ashley Gann. She called to get the $500 so she could offer it to a friend named Becky Kelly, recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It was a group of three of us calling back-to-back and we got just so excited when we got through and were just jumping and screaming," Gann said. "It was just awesome."
"And if that doesn't speak volumes of people here at Christmastime, I don't know what does," said Eberhart. "That's generosity beyond what sometimes you would even imagine."
And then WFAA met Cynthia Peake.
"I would thank them and hug them and say Merry Christmas to you too," she said of the cash donors.
The money might not go very far in her fight against Stage IV lung cancer, but it's the Christmas gesture that might mean even more.
"The gesture I think too," she said of the money that will help pay for her trips to and from the hospital for chemo and radiation treatments. "It helps a lot. People caring," she said.
Anonymous Secret Santas caring enough to spread as much Christmas joy as they can.
A Gainesville tradition with a little Christmas spirit, literally, in the air.
And Steve Eberhart says after the Tuesday morning promotion they received a call from a third Secret Santa. So, Friday morning they will open the phone lines again with another $1,000 to give away.
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