At first glance, he didn't look like Santa Claus. Standing near the customer service counter at City Market on Friday, dressed in faded blue jeans, a bright orange shirt and a black leather vest, he really looked like any other resident of Montezuma County. Yet, he was different and he had a different purpose. A selfless purpose packed with Christmas spirit.
Shuffling slowly from one foot to another with his eyes shaded by the brim of his worn ball cap, he quickly scanned the checkout lines at the store, filled with weary shoppers pushing filled-to-capacity grocery carts. While he watched the shoppers, he fingered the stack of $100 bills in his hands, looking for an opportunity to hand bills to a cashier and lift the spirits of the next man or woman in line.
"I'd like to pay," he quietly said to a cashier, handing over the necessary funds.
The surprise was evident on the face of the shopper.
"Well, thank you," said the gentleman. "That's very nice. Merry Christmas!"
"God bless you," the man quietly replied, before resuming his post.
This was the scene in City Market on Friday as one generous man took it upon himself to give back to his community in a most tangible way.
"I don't know why I decided to do it," he said Friday afternoon, requesting to remain anonymous. He struggled to come up with the words to account for his gift to those around him, mildly annoyed his cover was blown. "I didn't want anyone to know."
The ultimate secret Santa.
After a moment, he put into words the motivation of his generosity.
"It's a sad time for the world right now and we are having tough times," he said. "But this year, me and my wife are blessed. So, I did something. I decided to buy people's groceries."
Though he requested anonymity, his Christian Motorcycle Association vest betrayed his affiliation with a local group that strives to give back in many different ways. From food donations in the community during the holidays to fundraisers for Christian ministries, the members of CMA are used to altruistic actions, though this man's decision to give of his own money was completely individual, said Steve Reed, president of the local CMA chapter.
"I can tell you that his decision to do this came from his heart," Reed said in a phone interview on Friday. "He felt there was a need for some people out there and he felt there was something he could do about it."
For the beneficiaries of the man's gifts, there was suddenly something to smile about in a season when news of a shaky economy and horrific violence have left many feeling anything but celebratory.
"I wasn't expecting anything like this; it's awesome," said Heidi Brito, whose $11.87 grocery bill was paid by the kind stranger.
Brito had trouble not smiling as she spoke of the impact of the anonymous act.
"I have three kids and my oldest is diabetic and this time of year it is hard to take care of everything and buy his medications. This just makes my whole year," she said.
Brito was just one of many shoppers who left City Market with broad smiles and a new perspective on the day, and the season, thanks to a stranger.
At first glance, he didn't look like Santa Claus. But the legend of the jolly man originated with a monk named St. Nicholas who, among other things, provided gold coins for the purchase of food. In many ways, the actions of the generous man in City Market on Friday were not much different than the actions of that long-ago compassionate monk.
Perhaps there is a Santa Claus.
Perhaps he lives in Cortez.