Diana Boldman will never forget the day a Secret Santa changed her life.
Just before Thanksgiving, as the hardworking 65-year-old grandmother from Idaho Falls, Idaho, finished her shift at McDonald’s, she was approached by Nate Eaton, news manager for the East Idaho News community website.
For the past six years, Eaton has been the sole representative of a local Secret Santa who gives money and other gifts to deserving members of the community.
This year, the anonymous Santa learned of Boldman and her husband, Cameron, also 65, who’s on disability for back problems and other health issues. Before Diana clocks in at the McDonald’s on Yellowstone Highway each morning, the couple delivers 150 local newspapers around the area.
They had been driving the route in a dilapidated Dodge Caravan with more than 240,000 miles on it.
When Diana saw Eaton standing with his film crew at McDonald’s, “I recognized him right away. He’s all over the valley. He does very popular features,” she told TODAY Food.
She was “stunned” when she learned Eaton came to present her with a new 2019 Hyundai Tucson as a gift from the Secret Santa. He also presented her with $5000 in gift cards for gas and a check for $1000 to cover the cost of the new car’s registration.
While Diana feels others in the community “deserve” a new car more than she and her husband do, she said the car has brought them peace of mind.
“Before, we kept having to wake our daughter up at 3 o’clock in the morning for battery jumps before the paper route,” she said, laughing.
For Diana’s husband of 42 years, the new SUV came as a shock.
“Right after the interview with Nate Eaton was over, Diana calls me in tears and says, ‘Cam, I need to pick you up in about five minutes. I want you to drive the new SUV that just was given to us. We need to go down to the dealership and get the papers,'” Cameron told TODAY.
Now, delivering newspapers each morning is a joy.
“The new car is so nice to drive. It has 4-wheel drive and I’ve been using that on the icy roads on our paper route. We feel much safer,” gushed Cameron.
Related: The staff started calling him “Grandpa” after he left them a $280 tip.
Though the couple has some guesses about the identity of the local Secret Santa, they know nothing for sure.
“Whoever it is, thank you very much. We love you very much,” said Cameron. “If we ever find out who you are, we’d like to give you a big hug.”
As for now, Eaton is still the only person who knows Santa’s true identity.
Eaton told TODAY it’s been an “incredible” honor helping the anonymous Santa to give to those in need. Last year, he helped give away more than $500,000 in gifts. This year it will be “a lot more.”
Most recipients are nominated by community members, Eaton explained, and they go through a heavy vetting process. “These are generally people who never ask for help. They’re humble. They’re not asking for handouts or assistance,” he said.
Over the years, Eaton has helped deliver money to people who can’t afford hearing aids or dentures. “This year we surprised a guy with money so he could get a new prosthetic leg. He had a prosthetic leg he’d outgrown and he couldn’t afford to get a new one,” he shared.
Other people Santa gives to live paycheck to paycheck. They can’t afford financial emergencies — like the couple who were forced to wash their dishes in their shower after the plumbing in their kitchen broke.
The community’s generous Secret Santa isn’t looking for fame or glory, said Eaton. “He just wants to bless people’s lives.”