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Santa doesn’t always come down the chimney.

Sometimes he uses the back aisle of a thrift shop, or even the steps of a Detroit bus to spread Christmas cheer.

Santa — or more appropriate, Secret Santa — visited Detroit and Downriver on Thursday, handing out more than $13,000 in $100 bills to those who looked like they needed a little help.

All Santa asks in return: a random act of kindness for someone else.

There were tears, hoots and even a refusal to take the help. But all were thankful.

“I can’t believe it,” said Madonna Monroe, 47, of Lincoln Park when Santa and his two elves handed her a $100 bill as she worked in the Complete Laundry in Lincoln Park. “I just put Mom in the hospital last night because she has cancer.”

When Santa heard that, he handed her another $100: “Buy her some flowers,” he said.

Peggy Vincent found out last year that her 6-year-old son, John, has leukemia.

Since then, medical and other bills have consumed most of her money, and there’s nary a Christmas decoration in the Lincoln Park home they share with Vincent’s older son, Joe.

“That’s unbelievable. That is unbelievable,” she said as tears poured down her face Thursday when Secret Santa and his two elves visited and gave her three $100 bills. “All I have is Joe and John. You all just freaked me out.”

Vincent couldn’t believe strangers were standing in her living room giving her cash. She apologized for wearing a housedress and not tidying up, then quickly hugged her helpers.

She was one of dozens of metro Detroiters helped by Secret Santa and his elves, who allowed the Free Press exclusively to tag along as they spread holiday cheer Downriver and in Detroit.

The skinny on Santa

While Santa and his elves ask anonymity, this much we can share: Santa and his main elf are married and live comfortably in metro Detroit. They work hard and figure they’ve caught some breaks in life. Their goal is to find and help others who didn’t.

With them was another elf, a one-time Detroiter who returned for the first time in more than 20 years to help.

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