Every year, a Secret Santa brings joy, laughter and tears to people in need in East Idaho through an anonymous donation and with the help of East Idaho News.
The giving began in 2015 when Nate Eaton, news director at East Idaho News, received a call from a person wanting to give away $100,000 in gifts to local people in need. The Secret Santa just needed the news site to find the people first.
The idea was an immediate hit. Their email server almost crashed from the number of nominations they received the first year.
The program’s evolved and grown rapidly since then. The Secret Santa videos East Idaho News creates when they give gifts away have grown their online presence dramatically. They now have more than 33,000 followers on their YouTube channel.
Now in its fifth year, the Secret Santa pot has been raised to $500,000 and news staff have their hands full during the Christmas season vetting the more than 2,000 nominations they’ve received this year alone.
In an interview with BYU-Idaho Radio, Eaton wanted to be sure people know it’s not an organization or business giving the money away but a very generous individual.
“Secret Santa looks for people that just need a break,” Eaton said. “They’ve run out of luck, they’ve run out of money, they don’t ask for a handout, they’re working hard, they have specific needs, [and] they just need something to get ahead in life.”
Film and production crews will go out to sometimes several places each day during November and December to hand out gifts.
Sometimes those situations can be so heartbreaking or personal that East Idaho News elects to not air the footage from giving the gift away.
“The people that maybe you haven’t read about in the news, but have quietly suffered for years and years that don’t think they’ll ever get a break—this might be their year when they can know someone is thinking about them and they can get a gift that will actually change their life,” the news director explained.
One of the surprising elements of all this giving has been the effect it’s had on those who see the videos. Social media has spread Secret Santa’s charity all over the world.
When he spoke to BYU-Idaho Radio, Eaton said he’d already received seven emails just that morning of people praising the program. Those included messages from people in Canada, Yugoslavia and Ireland.
“Not just the people receiving the gifts are being blessed but people simply watching the videos,” Eaton said. “That’s been something we never thought about when this whole thing started.”
Eaton also said they still have about $150,000 and several cars left to give away this year, and they’re still seeking nominations for this year.
To nominate someone (you can’t nominate yourself) for the Secret Santa program, you just need to fill out an application on their website.