The late Kern Schwartz was Worthington’s unofficial Secret Santa for years, anonymously giving away cash during the Christmas holiday through the Worthington Police Department. The tradition he started with his wife, Jean, has lived on with support from community members, and now it will be a permanent legacy thanks to the Kern’s Christmas Cash Endowment Fund at Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF).
This new fund is one of more than 100 designated funds at SWIF that benefit donors’ specific areas of interest, including schools, historical societies, hospice programs and more. Todd Schwartz, the oldest of Kern and Jean’s children, and his siblings Paul, Amy and Sarah decided to use money from their parents’ trust to kickstart the fund.
“We thought it would be great to designate it to this cause and set up an endowment so that it continues to give for a very long time,” Todd said.
It was 1958 when Kern and Jean moved to Worthington, where Kern began his veterinary practice. Doc Schwartz was a veterinarian for 50 years, first with the Worthington Veterinary Clinic and then with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. He knew every back country road and enjoyed his daily interactions with farmers and their animals. After the four kids were school age, Jean taught Title 1 reading and math for 20 years at Central Elementary in Worthington.
As longtime members of American Lutheran Church, the Schwartzes volunteered in many roles at the church and lived out their faith through generous actions and kind words. In 2016, they began giving money to Worthington’s chief of police at Christmastime to hand out to people who needed it. But they never told anyone else about their donations. Jean passed away in 2016, and the secret came out when Kern passed away in 2019. The anonymous gifts became well known in the community as Kern’s Christmas Cash, but it was a joint effort between Jean and Kern. After Kern’s death in 2019, community members chipped in to keep Kern’s Christmas Cash going
Even though it was a secret, it came as no surprise to Todd that his parents were behind the gifts.
“As Mom and Dad started to age a little bit, they realized how blessed they were, and they wanted to share that out. Both had philanthropic endeavors. It fit right into their philosophy. We were thrilled and very grateful they did it,” Todd said.
Last year, the WPD received $2,600 in donations. It was given away $100 at a time, tucked into Christmas cards handed out to 26 individuals and families in the community. Over the years, the Christmas cash has been used for food, presents, car repairs and many other ways.
“The money is unexpected, it wasn’t asked for, and it’s cool to see the joy and the impact. Folks are touched by it,” said Todd, adding that it’s also a positive opportunity for the police department to reach out in the community.
Anyone can give to the Kern’s Christmas Cash Endowment Fund at SWIF, and Todd encourages others to help keep the local tradition alive.
“That’s part of how the fund is set up at SWIF and meant to be used. This is not a one-time shot; it’s hopefully a growing project over time that people give to,” Todd said. “I think it’s a great example for our kids and a great example in the community, and we just wanted to keep that legacy going.”
Start a designated fund
Designated Funds allow you to create a named, charitable fund that is permanently endowed and restricted for a specific purpose. Gifts to a fund at SWIF receive the highest possible charitable tax deduction. Tell us your idea and goals, and we’ll find the appropriate match for you. Email us your idea or call (320) 583-6342.