Robin Tolsma played Santa Claus at a Cheektowaga Kmart store for a few unsuspecting holiday shoppers this week.
The Lancaster woman, who lost her husband, Darren, in the crash of Flight 3407 in February 2009, told The Buffalo News that the community did so much for her in the days following her husband's death that "it feels so good to do something for the community."
"As bad as things have been in my life in the last three years, there is so much good in the world," said Tolsma, saying the idea came from her 19-year-old daughter, Nikki.
"She said, 'How about not sending Christmas cards out this year' -- we usually send out about 200 -- 'and instead [how] about if we put the money toward helping other people,' " Tolsma said. "It's kind of like in the Christmas special where the Grinch's heart grows 10 times as big. You can't explain the feeling; you just have to experience it."
Margaret J. Hauser was among those touched by the "Secret Santa" generosity. On Tuesday, she learned that her youngest daughter had been one of Tolsma's beneficiaries.
While standing in line at the layaway counter to pay on her Christmas gifts at the Walden Avenue Kmart, Jessica Hauser was informed by the cashier that "a secret Santa" had left $20 to help her out. Others in line also received anonymous assistance.
And if that wasn't enough, Margaret Hauser had her own encounter with random generosity.
"I was at Tony Martin Awards in Cheektowaga this afternoon to pick up an engraved picture frame, and when I went to pay, I discovered I had left my purse out in the car, and I told the guy to hold on, and he said, 'No, it's free. Merry Christmas.' I gave him a hug," Hauser said.
Now she intends to pass it on.
"I saved a good 30 or 40 bucks, and I'm going to get Jessica's son a little something extra for Christmas. Jessica is on hard times. She's unemployed, has another baby on the way and goes to school," the grateful grandmother said.
Such random acts of holiday giving have recently made headlines, with anonymous donors going to Kmarts across the country and paying off layaway bills for customers waiting in line.
There are at least three other such reports from the region this week as well, including another at a French Road Kmart in Cheektowaga where an anonymous woman reportedly paid a more than $200 bill Monday for another woman. Kmart officials refused to provide further details when reached Tuesday.
Reports also surfaced of Secret Santas in Jamestown and Erie, Pa., as well.
"We have a Secret Santa right here in Buffalo," said Hauser, who with her husband, Raymond, is retired and on a fixed income. She said she is awed that others would be so generous to strangers.
"God bless the people doing this, and hopefully someone will reward them back tenfold," she said.
News Staff Reporter T.J. Pignataro contributed to this report.