Layaway Santas Sweeping The Nation

12:00 AM, Dec 21, 2011   |    comments
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Undated -- Mystery donors are visiting stores and paying the balance on accounts that allow customers to pay for purchases over several months. Some donors ask the store to apply the money to children's toys or clothing; they aren't told recipients' names. Nor do recipients learn the identities of the donors.

More than 15 layaway accounts totaling almost $4,000 have been paid by strangers at a Kmart in Lafayette, Ind., says store manager Vic Sutherland. "It's pretty awesome," he says. "With the economy the way it is, you wouldn't expect it."

Many of the angel visits have been at Kmart stores, where more than $412,000 has been donated to more than 1,000 layaway accounts, says Shannelle Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Sears Holdings Corp., which owns Kmart's 1,300 stores.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee says layaway angels are visiting its stores "from coast to coast." At a Haleyville, Ala., Walmart, a man donated $11,000 to pay the accounts of 75 families.

The phenomenon apparently began three weeks ago when a woman paid off three layaway charges at a Grand Rapids, Mich., Kmart. Media coverage prompted a slew of copycat givers.

Generosity can be contagious, says Lisa Dietlin, a Chicago philanthropic adviser. After years of austerity, people are "knocking the economy in the eye and deciding not to be stingy this year," she says.

Last Friday, a man walked into a Hayward, Calif., Kmart with $10,000 cash to pay down layaway accounts. He used $9,800 on 63 accounts and dropped the remaining $200 in a Salvation Army kettle as he left the store.

Assistant store manager Darlene Beverly called some of the recipients. "Some scream, some holler - with joy, of course," she says. "They cry big time."

Lori Stearnes thought it was a joke when a Kmart in Omaha called to tell her that someone had paid the $58 balance on her account, which included toys for her youngest grandchildren. "It was a shock, of course, and then it just made me feel warm and fuzzy," she says.

Stearnes went back to Kmart and used the money she had set aside for the gifts to pay off two other layaway accounts.

The man who gave a Charles City, Iowa, Kmart $500 to settle layaway accounts told employees he was originally from the area and wanted to help people less fortunate than he is. "It was just a give-you-goosebumps kind of feeling," says store manager Katie Cook.

Melissa Atwood, who lives in Michigan City, Ind., got a call Monday from a La Porte, Ind., Kmart notifying her that someone had paid the $120 balance on her Christmas gifts.

"There is still good will toward men out there," she says.

Story Originally Posted on USA Today

Here in the Triad, we saw the first example of layaway Santa at a Kmart in Burlington. Now the Kmart on Bridford Parkway in Greensboro is reporting two dozen layaways paid by secret Santas.

USA Today/WFMY News 2

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