Some people got teary eyed, a few shook their heads in disbelief, while others threw their arms around a man dressed as Santa Claus who was handing them envelopes stuffed with a $100 bill.

Secret Santa dropped in unannounced Wednesday night at Catherine’s Cupboard – the town of Standish’s food pantry located in Standish Town Hall.

Secret Santa and his helper, Mrs. Claus, arrived around the time that 50 people were sitting down to eat dinner, a weekly event hosted by St. Joseph’s College students, staff and community volunteers. The food pantry was founded in 2008 by the college’s Mercy Center and the town.

Santa’s random act of kindness lifted the spirits of the crowd, many of whom had come expecting only a hot meal and food to take home.

“You have no idea, God bless you,” Rebecca Bennett of Standish said when Santa handed her the money. “You have no idea what this means. I’ve been struggling so much.”

Over the past eight years or so, a different Secret Santa (Secret Santa Portland) gave away thousands of dollars to people in need, but this year’s version – Secret Santa Maine – represents a permanent changing of the guard.

“We’re carrying on the tradition,” Secret Santa Maine said before he got out of his SUV and entered the food pantry. He and his wife say they want to remain anonymous, a tradition carried on from his predecessor, who retired this year.

“We’re doing this because we want to spread the holiday cheer,” Santa said. The couple has given away $20,000, with the Standish food pantry probably being their last stop. Santa and his wife say they hope to expand their efforts next year to include more towns. The couple visited food pantries in Naples and Bridgton on Tuesday.

“There is such a tremendous amount of need in this state. People don’t realize that there is a lot of suffering,” Mrs. Claus said.

Bennett counts herself among those going through tough times. The 65-year-old Standish woman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 15 years ago and at times struggles to stand upright, but she says she’s never lost faith in the kindness of her fellow man.

She plans to give the $100 to her daughter, who lost her job and is struggling to get by.

“We do for other people. I believe in that. If you can do that, give to others, you can’t go wrong. Be kind to others,” Bennett said.

Scott Proctor of Windham said he plans to use the $100 to buy heating oil. He lives alone on Social Security benefits and is grateful for the extra cash.

“I just can’t believe it. This has never happened to me,” the 57-year-old Proctor said.

Marjorie Patry of Standish said the $100 could not have come at a better time. She fell and injured herself earlier this year.

“So much has gone wrong for me this year,” said Patry, who was unable to continue speaking as tears filled her eyes.

Patry regained her composure and said that she plans to use the money to repair her porch. Meeting Secret Santa at the food pantry, however, did not surprise Patry. Patry told her husband earlier in the day that she had a hunch she might meet the man, whom she heard had been visiting area food pantries.

“I’m a believer that God will take care of us,” Patry said.

The original Secret Santa in a post on Facebook earlier this month announced that he was retiring, but said he will continue to offer advice to his successor.

“Secret Santa Portland has had a few personal life changes in the last year, with a number of medical issues, retirement (and its new financial constraints) and relocation to a warmer climate (Maine/The North Pole was just getting too hard for me to handle in the winter.)”

Secret Santa Portland urged his followers to spread the spirit of the season.

“Donate your time, hold a door, help a neighbor, tip that hardworking waitress at your favorite diner just a little more this time of year … every bit helps … and it’s contagious,” he wrote in his Facebook post.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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