12/21/2010 at 06:00 PM EST
Santa Claus won't be making his rounds until Saturday, but another jolly, generous gent spread good cheer in New York City on Monday. Instead of squeezing down chimneys, actor Josh Lucas and his rescue dog, Loki, teamed up with Purina ONE and took to the streets of the Big Apple to surprise randomly selected citizens with the opportunity to donate $5,000 to any charity of their choice.
Purina's campaign – which was inspired by a recent poll showing 90% of Americans would like to give more than they do to charity – shelled out a total of $1 million for various non-profit organizations.
"Giving people the ability to help and spread the wealth without having to go in their pockets ... I think that's something amazing," Lucas told PEOPLEPets.com. "I spoke [with] Loki and he said, 'Let's do it.'"
Mary Peoples, a 62-year-old physician's assistant at Veterans Administration Hospital in North Carolina, was stopped and told she had won the prize. She choose to donate to Operation Baghdad Pups, a group that reunites soldiers with pets they befriended in war zones. "This is the best Christmas gift," Peoples says. "You can see that [Baghdad Pups] makes so much of a difference in [veterans'] lives."
Brendan Maguire, 29 – a sailor in the U.S. Navy – also gave to Operation Baghdad Pups, calling it a "therapeutic" experience. "It's incredible to be doing this, especially during the Christmas season," he says.
Marie Baurous, 70, said she was "flabbergasted" when she and her friend, Marie Holland, 50, were approached by Lucas and Loki. "Everything happens for a reason," says Baurous, who directed her donation to the United Way.
Lucas wasn't the only celebrity who took part in the big give. Purina also enlisted snowboarder Chris Klug in Denver, chef Michelle Bernstein in Miami and former New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister in New Orleans.
Lucas, who will star in the upcoming movie The Lincoln Lawyer, says his trusty pup was a worthy wingman in the effort, which also celebrated next month's launch of Purina's new beyOnd brand, a line of pet food that is packaged in 92% renewable materials. "Loki is smooth," he says. "He's got a real Cary Grant essence about him: Loves the ladies but is also a guy's guy."
But the hearthrob proved he's all heart himself. "I really did have a Santa Claus moment today," Lucas says. Read more about animals and charities on PEOPLEPets.com:For Teenager with Disability, Every Day Is Easier with Her Canine CompanionFormer Champ Rufus Enjoying 'Second Life' As a Therapy Dog