GAINESVILLE, Texas — For the third year in a row, radio station KGAF in Gainesville opened its phone lines and a briefcase full of cash for Cooke County residents in need this Christmas.
Only this year, COVID-19 was a recurring theme.
KGAF, with donations from two “Secret Santas,” whom station manager Steve Eberhart says he is not allowed to identify, provided $20,000 in cash to be distributed in $500 increments to the first 40 callers who could explain why they were in need of the generous gift.
Multiple callers mentioned COVID-19 as the reason for their request.
"It's been a lot. It's been a hectic year,” said one caller.
"And I also have a brother dealing with COVID. He has been so sick,” said another caller.
"I haven't been able to work the past few months because of the COVID and everything being shut down,” said another caller.
"My fiancé and I both lost our jobs during COVID,” said another.
In years past, the staff of KGAF invited each caller to drive to the radio station and to inside the small office to receive their cash. This year, with COVID-19 precautions and social distancing in mind, the 40 recipients lined up in their cars in the KGAF driveway.
Eberhart, along with station personalities Dee Blanton and Darin Allred and a Cooke County deputy providing security, handed $500 in cash to each recipient.
"It's no joke, it's not something to mess around with,” Tiffany Diaz said of her own recovery from COVID.
"I was sick with COVID and out of work for three weeks and got behind on all my stuff,” Diaz said in her phone call to KGAF.
Donna Day was the caller who said she would use the money to buy medications for her brother who is now in quarantine.
"He's better, but he's going to be much better when he gets the medicine he needs,” Day said.
"It is amazing,” Day said of the $500 gift. “I wish more families could get into it.
"But it's amazing what they do,” Day said of the radio station and the anonymous “Secret Santas.”
But no one appreciated that $500 more than a caller named Deborah Salas.
"Well, my husband has been sick and they cut his hours at work because of his health, and this will give us a better Christmas,” Salas said in the phone call.
“Oh thank you, Jesus. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Salas said when Eberhart announced she would receive $500 too.
And when the phone calls ended, Salas and her son were first in line.
"I just thank y’all so much. So, so much,” Salas said to Eberhart.
"The need was certainly there this year, perhaps even greater than the years past,” said Eberhart.
Eberhart said the people who offer this money each year still ask to remain anonymous. Scenes like the one that played out in front of KGAF on Friday morning are the only “repayment” they ask.
“And that's amazing,” said Eberhart.
It would be that much more amazing if next year there is no COVID-19 and only Christmas spirit in the air.