Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

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Secret Santa strikes again: $1 million gift blesses lives of local needy


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Joanna Herrera looks up at her father Lenny Herrera as he receives a gift card worth $500, thanks to the largess of an anonymous “Secret Santa” who donated $1 million for families in southern Nevada Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012.

United Way Secret Santa

Endia Spann hugs United Way's Ira Koplow after picking up a gift card worth $500, thanks to the largess of an anonymous Launch slideshow »

Some smiled, some were shocked, some cried when the news was told to them. Most people were speechless.

On Thursday, 2,000 people in need were told that they could afford Christmas, and many of the recipients of the Visa card with $500 were not excited about the gifts they’d buy; instead, they were thrilled with the food they’d purchase, and the shoes they’d be able to give their children.

The money given to those families was donated to the United Way of Southern Nevada, a $1 million offering to the nonprofit group with just one stipulation: find those most in need.

So Cass Palmer, CEO of the local United Way, found the families with the help of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Las Vegas, and around 40 other organizations. It was hard work, but they did it on about five days' notice.

“My legs are killing me, my knees are killing me, but I’m having fun,” Palmer said.

The event helped to further his organization's goal to be an instrument to distribute much-needed gifts and services.

The event known as “Secret Santa” was the third time the same anonymous donor provided a $1 million gift. The donor’s other gifts came this summer and last Christmas.

The United Way and the other charities vetted each of the recipients to make sure the money would be given to those who needed the most help. Those who qualified for the program were able to collect their Visa cards from 2 to 7 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Clubs at 2850 Lindell Road. At 10:30 a.m. a line so long had formed that it was curling around the building.

With her three children and nephew circling her, Karina Herrera’s eyebrows raised as she was told how much help she’d be getting.

“Settle down,” she yelled, as they raced around the club's gym. “See? The police officer is coming to get you!”

They continued to run around, either because they couldn’t hear their mother’s pleas, or in direct defiance of her wishes.

What should be a happy time for Herrera has been a challenge. As a single mother and as an attendant at casino gaming tables, she said earning money for all her family needs isn’t always easy.

The money will help her satisfy a few wants, but the need to buy clothes for three children growing like weeds will take precedent.

She knelt down and propped her little boy's shoe on her leg so she could tie his laces.

“With three kids, any kind of Christmas is something, “ she said. “I didn’t have much set aside.”

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