Lifestyle & Belief

Layaway angels are the latest holiday trend


Shoppers look for bargains at a Kmart store in the Bronx borough of New York City on Nov. 17, 2008.


Yvonne Hemsey

A woman in Grand Rapids, Mich., who paid off the layaway accounts of three strangers in a Kmart store on Dec. 6 has inspired a wave of copycat giving. In California, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Montana and Nebraska, good Samaritans having been volunteering to pick up the tab for families that have been paying for their Christmas gifts over time.

In Naperville, Ill., a Kmart assistant manager told the Naperville Sun that about a dozen anonymous donors had paid off strangers’ layaway accounts at his store on Friday and Saturday. “They’ll kind of pick a layaway” account and pay off the balance, which is typically $70 to $100, he told the Naperville Sun.

In Missoula, Mont., a man paid off the accounts of six customers whose layaway orders were about to be returned to a Kmart store's inventory because of late payments, The Associated Press reported. An anonymous Silicon Valley donor spent $9,800 paying down 63 layaway accounts at a Kmart store in Hayward, Calif., last week after hearing about the good Samaritan in Grand Rapids. In an email, he told the San Jose Mercury News, "I couldn't sleep last night thinking about it, and wanted to help. I do not want publicity, only to encourage others to pay it forward."

"People feel good about doing something good for someone else, and it's really catching on," Alba Strong, manager of a Kmart in Hialeah, Fla., told the AP.

According to the San Jose Mercury News:

The benefactors generally ask to help families who are squirreling away items for young children. They often pay a portion of the balance, usually all but a few dollars or cents so the layaway order stays in the store's system.

Kmart officials told the AP that they had nothing do with this spontaneous outbreak of generosity. "It is honestly being driven by people wanting to do a good deed at this time of the year," said Salima Yala, Kmart's division vice president for layaway.

The donors seem to be mostly paying off layaway accounts at Kmart stores, which offer layaway throughout the year, though a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Naperville Sun that layaway angels had visited their stores in Joplin, Mo., and Chicago. Wal-Mart instituted a holiday season layaway program this year.

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