Once homeless himself, mystery benefactor helps others


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Backwater--the edges of time...
Denver, Colorado, USA

Article Published: Sunday, December 26, 2004

Mystery benefactor gives $100 bills to shelter folks

By Kim McGuire
Denver Post Staff Writer

Post / Andy CrossFrancine Ann Bitela, left, and William Chengelis, both residents of Samaritan House, are two of the people who received $100 from an anonymous donor.

Samaritan House managers on Saturday still didn't know the identity of the stranger who strolled into the Denver shelter Christmas Eve and handed out $100 bills to most of the 250 residents. All they knew was that he personified the Christmas spirit.

"He told us that he had been down in the past and he had some hard times and he wanted to give something back," said Brian Jones, a shelter residential coordinator on duty Christmas Eve. "But that's as much as he would say."

By the time the stranger was done, shelter managers estimate he had doled out $20,000 to $25,000 to the shelter's residents.

He gave one family of six, who had recently lost their home, $5,000 and encouraged them to start over, shelter residents said.

"I was in the employment office that day with the family and all the kids had colds," said William Chengelis, who has lived at the shelter since early November. "And I was thinking these people are here for the first time and they really need some help. Now, they've been lifted up and lifted out."

The Rev. John Lager, director of Samaritan House, said he fielded calls from dozens of media outlets Saturday, including the British Broadcasting Corp., inquiring about the shelter's benefactor.

All shelter managers could tell reporters was that the man appeared to be between 35 and 40 years old, said he was once homeless himself, and was accompanied by a man who appeared to be a bodyguard.

"When he came in and started donating the money he had a big smile on his face," Jones said.

Just a few weeks ago, Francine Vitela lost her job as a phone surveyor, then her home. That's how she ended up at Samaritan House, which Lager said is Denver's largest homeless shelter.

There, she encountered the Samaritan.

"I told him, 'You made our Christmas. Thank you and God bless you,"' said Vitela, who said she plans to put her $100 in the bank next week. "I mean, that man was just like an angel."

Lager described the Christmas Eve giveaway as a "profound" experience for the Samaritan House residents.

"We are blessed to receive this wonderful generosity of this Santa," he said. "It certainly gave a great deal of hope and light and encouragement to the men and women and children who live here at Samaritan House."

Franciscan Friends of the Poor, which is raising money to build a 4,500-square foot homeless shelter in Denver, also got a large anonymous gift of cash just before Christmas, 9News reported Saturday. The Franciscans received a box containing $20,000 and a note suggesting the money be used "For Your New Building."

Staff writer Kim McGuire can be reached at 303-820-1240 or kmcguire@denverpost.com .

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