Every year, a Secret Santa brings joy to people in need in East Idaho through an anonymous donation and with the help of East Idaho News. The anonymous “secret Santa” has been giving out gifts to people in the East Idaho community for the last five years. This year, more than $500,000 will be given to area families. The news station created a program to nominate people that are in need. They are still seeking nominations for this year and they still have about $150,000 along with several cars left to give away.
It all started in 2015 when Nate Eaton, news director of East Idaho News, received a call from a person wanting to give away $100,000 in gifts to local people in need and the Secret Santa just needed the news site to find the people first. The idea was an immediate hit and their email server almost crashed from the number of nominations they received the first year. The program has grown rapidly since then and people love watching the gifting every year. They now have more than 33,000 followers on their YouTube channel.
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.”
Families across the Eastern Idaho region have been fortunate to be the recipients of gifts from the mysterious and generous “Secret Santa,” who for the past six years has worked in secrecy. Since the “Secret Santa” is anonymous, Eaton has become the face of the entire operation. He’s the one showing up on doorsteps handing out the presents. “It is a local person here. I think if you were to meet him on the street, he might deny it,” said Eaton, who is the only one on his team who knows Santa’s true identity.
This year some gifts will be bigger than ever and will include money towards a prosthetic leg, a pickup truck and a 15-seat passenger van. “The key is you don’t want to have somebody receive a large gift and then [they] have to pay the taxes on it or any fees or things like that,” he explained of how it works. “So Secret Santa covers all of that. If somebody gets a car, the taxes have been paid for. The only thing the person has to pay is the registration and he gives them a check to take care of that.”
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. To nominate someone (you can’t nominate yourself) for the Secret Santa program, you just need to fill out an application on their website.