A surprise for woman who brings Christmas magic to struggling families

- A St. Paul single mother who helps needy families during the holidays received a Christmas surprise of her own this year.

If anyone believes in the gift of giving, it’s LeeAnn Larson.

"I just enjoy it,” Larson said. “I have a passion for it.”

A few years ago, the St. Paul single mother started bringing some Christmas magic to struggling families on the city's East side.

This year, she and other members of her Facebook group, "An East Side Christmas", filled up a box truck with gifts for one very special Christmas surprise.

"They are expecting me with a couple of gifts,” Larson said. “Once I get in the house with Santa, our people will sneak up to the house and sing Christmas carols. They'll open the door and [it will be] magic." 

Larson and about 100 others showed up at Clarissa Benitez's house with a steady stream of Christmas carols, presents and cheer.

Benitez lost her son Miguel Gonzalez last month after he started having seizures the day he was supposed to start his junior year at Harding High.

"I've had good days and bad days,” Benitez said. “The last two were bad and sad for me. I was just missing Miguel but this will definitely help the kids and brighten their Christmas up.”

But the woman who gives so much to so many was in for a surprise of her own. 

Larson's friends and neighbors gave her and her two kids their first family vacation ever, a trip to Disney World, on a day that happens to be her birthday.

"I'm used to being the one gathering people to help people,” Larson said. “I'm not used to being on this end of it.”

Larson and her group raised enough money to cover two months’ rent for Miguel's mom.

When she started adopting families at Christmas, she started with three. This year she and her group helped more than 80 families.

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