This is the story about a selfless little boy, the Christmas spirit and Santa's surprise at St. John's Lutheran School.

The little red-headed boy sat quietly at an all-school assembly at St. John's Lutheran School, unaware that in just a few moments, his Christmas wish penned in a letter to Santa Claus would come true. Millions of children around the world send letters to jolly St. Nick, but only a few ever receive a direct response.

So when Santa marched into the school's gymnasium carrying a red sack and asked for first grader Hauns to join him on stage, it was a surprise. Nevertheless, Hauns ran right up and joined Santa, who finally began to shed some light on his mysterious visit to the Hannibal school.

“I got a letter from a young man a couple of weeks ago,” Santa explained. “And it touched old Santa's heart. And I'm very proud of that young man.”

Yes, the young man is Hauns, now shy in front of the entire school with all eyes on him.

You see, Hauns' letter to Santa was short and sweet.

And selfless.

He asked for one billion Box Tops — referring to a General Mills program in which schools collect cutouts from General Mills brand products and turn them in to get extra school funding.

Hauns put it succinctly as only a child can sometimes. He said he asked for Box Tops “because I wanted to help the school.” No video games, cars, or toys. Just Box Tops and “a few more surprises.”

The letter was published in the Courier-Post on Dec. 2. A General Mills employee at the Hannibal plant saw the letter and informed the plant manager, Becky Crane.

Crane, one of Santa's “elves,” worked some Christmas magic.

And there, in the St. John's Lutheran School gymnasium, sat Santa on Thursday, Dec. 15 with three sacks full of Box Tops. It's enough for $10,000 for the school.

The children, shocked by Santa's visit, whooped and hollered and clapped when a larger-than-life check was presented by Crane to Principal Ann Lear.

“We were able to do something that honestly had us all in tears before everybody walked in,” Crane later said.

The money is enough to finish the second phase of a three-phase project to renovate the school's playground. Another cause of celebration for the students.

And in the middle of it all, a selfless little boy, quietly exhibiting the spirit of the holiday season.

“I admire him,” Principal Lear said. “People can say this a lot: put others before yourself. But we don't always do that. He did. It's all on Hauns. He's the guy who did it.”

Once the renovation of the playground is complete, Hauns said he looks forward to playing on the expanded playground.

And as for those “few more surprises” Hauns sought?

He went home with a General Mills gift basket about half his size and everyone in the school left with a goodie bag.

After the presentation, children swarmed Santa to generously dole out hugs and words of thanks. They circled around Crane and joined her in singing “Jingle Bells.” And Hauns, the unknowing star, got his turn in the spotlight, with television interviews and high fives all around.

Crane, Santa's “elf,” said she is inspired by the generosity the Hannibal General Mills team displays, both on this project and in general.

“I'm proud and inspired to be a part of this team,” she said. “This community cares so much about its members and the businesses that work here. That is something money can't buy.”

Since its inception 20 years ago, the Box Tops program has given back more than $719 million to school throughout the country.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .