After a tough 2020, a mom in Liberal, Kansas, wanted to give her children a special moment to close out the year. Leticia Gonzalez had her 4-year-old twins, Luna and Gianella, write letters to Santa and attached them to balloons, sending them off into the sky.
About a month later, a grandfather living more than 650 miles away found a red balloon tangled in a downed tree.
"I dreamed all my life of finding a balloon with just a name and number and calling and saying, 'I found your balloon,'" Alvin Bamburg of Shreveport, Louisiana, told CBS News. In late December, Bamburg was walking near his home when that dream came true.
He immediately picked up the balloon. "I saw a note attached to it. And on this note, it was sealed with a single red star, and I though, 'What is this?'" Bamburg said. "So, I broke it open and it was Luna's Christmas list."
The balloon belonged to one of Gonzalez's twins. Her mother had never thought anyone would even find the balloons, let alone answer the letters.
"I just thought it was something cute and a different way to send a letter to Santa, other than the usual way of sending it by mail," Gonzalez told CBS News.
The girls released the balloons on December 1. They traveled to Mexico for Christmas, and when they got back, they were surprised to see on Facebook that one of the balloons was found in Louisiana.
Bamburg immediately knew the Christmas list was important to the little girl who wrote it. So when he found the balloon, he and his wife posted about it on Facebook, where he said it "spread like wildfire."
Within 24 hours, Bamburg found out that the balloon came from Gonzalez and her twins. He also heard from many friends who wanted to help him fulfill the Christmas list, which included a "Frozen" doll and candy.
"All my friends started saying, 'I'd like to donate this,' or 'I'd like to donate that.' And we got all the gifts we could — the puppy was the hardest to find," he said.
Yes, Luna's list also included a puppy — and Bamburg, determined to get every last gift, wanted to get her one.
In April, after months of acting as Secret Santa, Bamburg found the perfect dog. He and his wife drove toward Kansas, and the Gonzalez family met them at the halfway mark in Oklahoma.
There, the once strangers exchanged gifts.
"I just felt like they were family now," Bamburg said. "When they took the puppy, they just showered us with food and gifts. And we're going back up there in about a month or two. We're going to give them some Louisiana treats."
Bamburg said the sweet reaction from the girls warmed his heart. Both he and Gonzalez hope sharing their experience shows how a kind gesture from a stranger can spread joy to countless others.
"So many wonderful people still exist in this Earth," Gonzalez said. "Even if it's a stranger who takes time out of their day to make somebody happy."