Anonymous Donors Pay Off Kmart Layaway Accounts

Anonymous donors pay off Kmart layaway accountsOMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The young father stood in line at the Kmart layaway counter, wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots. With him were three small children.

He asked to pay something on his bill because he knew he wouldn't be able to afford it all before Christmas. Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.

"She told him, 'No, I'm paying for it,'" recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis. "He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn't, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears."

At Kmart stores across the country, Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers' layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn't afford, especially toys and children's clothes set aside by impoverished parents.

Before she left the store Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people. On the way out, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.

"She was doing it in the memory of her husband who had just died, and she said she wasn't going to be able to spend it and wanted to make people happy with it," Deppe said. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to "remember Ben," an apparent reference to her husband.

Deppe, who said she's worked in retail for 40 years, had never seen anything like it.

"It was like an angel fell out of the sky and appeared in our store," she said.

Most of the donors have done their giving secretly.

Dona Bremser, an Omaha nurse, was at work when a Kmart employee called to tell her that someone had paid off the $70 balance of her layaway account, which held nearly $200 in toys for her 4-year-old son.

"I was speechless," Bremser said. "It made me believe in Christmas again."

Dozens of other customers have received similar calls in Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Montana.

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.

The phenomenon seems to have begun in Michigan before spreading, Kmart executives said.

"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 good Samaritans seem to be visiting mainly Kmart stores, though a Wal-Mart spokesman said a few of his stores in Joplin, Mo., and Chicago have also seen some layaway accounts paid off.

Kmart representatives say they did nothing to instigate the secret Santas or spread word of the generosity. But it's happening as the company struggles to compete with chains such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Kmart may be the focus of layaway generosity, Yala said, because it is one of the few large discount stores that has offered layaway year-round for about four decades. Under the program, customers can make purchases but let the store hold onto their merchandise as they pay it off slowly over several weeks.

The sad memories of layaways lost prompted at least one good Samaritan to pay off the accounts of five people at an Omaha Kmart, said Karl Graff, the store's assistant manager.

"She told me that when she was younger, her mom used to set up things on layaway at Kmart, but they rarely were able to pay them off because they just didn't have the money for it," Graff said.

He called a woman who had been helped, "and she broke down in tears on the phone with me. She wasn't sure she was going to be able to pay off their layaway and was afraid their kids weren't going to have anything for Christmas."

"You know, 50 bucks may not sound like a lot, but I tell you what, at the right time, it may as well be a million dollars for some people," Graff said.

Graff's store alone has seen about a dozen layaway accounts paid off in the last 10 days, with the donors paying $50 to $250 on each account.

"To be honest, in retail, it's easy to get cynical about the holidays, because you're kind of grinding it out when everybody else is having family time," Graff said. "It's really encouraging to see this side of Christmas again."

Lori Stearnes of Omaha also benefited from the generosity of a stranger who paid all but $58 of her $250 layaway bill for toys for her four youngest grandchildren.

Stearnes said she and her husband live paycheck to paycheck, but she plans to use the money she was saving for the toys to help pay for someone else's layaway.

In Missoula, Mont., a man spent more than $1,200 to pay down the balances of six customers whose layaway orders were about to be returned to a Kmart store's inventory because of late payments.

Store employees reached one beneficiary on her cellphone at Seattle Children's Hospital, where her son was being treated for an undisclosed illness.

"She was yelling at the nurses, 'We're going to have Christmas after all!'" store manager Josine Murrin said.
A Kmart in Plainfield Township, Mich., called Roberta Carter last week to let her know a man had paid all but 40 cents of her $60 layaway.

Carter, a mother of eight from Grand Rapids, Mich., said she cried upon hearing the news. She and her family have been struggling as she seeks a full-time job.

"My kids will have clothes for Christmas," she said.

Angie Torres, a stay-at-home mother of four children under the age of 8, was in the Indianapolis Kmart on Tuesday to make a payment on her layaway bill when she learned the woman next to her was paying off her account.

"I started to cry. I couldn't believe it," said Torres, who doubted she would have been able to pay off the balance. "I was in disbelief. I hugged her and gave her a kiss."

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hello there

this is a gods way think him my kids dont have any thing in tell feb so be grayfil

December 21 2011 at 8:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Giving children expensive gifts you can't afford isn't teachin them responsibility. They may grow into looney libs and that would be a disaster.

December 19 2011 at 4:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to savemycountry911's comment

How about you drinking from a cup of kindness this Christmas

December 20 2011 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here is a story that needs to be forwarded to every Congress men and women in Washington, and maybe 2 copies for each Republican.

December 18 2011 at 3:40 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to msherer260's comment

No... FOUR copies to each entitlement voting Democrat!

December 19 2011 at 8:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This was a story worth printing. It really made me cry!

December 17 2011 at 9:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
B Koz

Christmas is a special time for sure....and I know many needy people are being helped without any recognition by good people all over the country.
My only concern is for people that overdo the toys for kids...$200 for toys for 1 child?.... ridiculous!

December 17 2011 at 9:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

This is what Christmas is all about! What a wonderful story.

December 17 2011 at 9:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Would have been nice to have been able to just put something on lay-a-way,but I am glad some babies are having a bit of CHRISTMAS !!

December 17 2011 at 8:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I do not want to diminish what these great people have done, but people who are really in need do not have $200 of stuff on layaway. I for one am hoping to scrap up $5 to go to the dollar store to get my son Christmas presents this year. He turned 3 two days ago and if it was not my extended family he would have had nothing to celebrate his birthday. We did not choose to be in this position it was not the plan at the time we decided to start our family both of us had good paying jobs and then everything went to the crapper. Before my son was born we were both laid off and forced to move into my mothers living room. We have gotten back on our feet but are barely scraping by day to day. But we are together and that is all that matters but as a mother it is devastating to mark another holiday with nothing to give to my sweet son.

December 17 2011 at 8:04 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to granny's comment

I hear you!! I have a 2 year old son and was laid off just before I found out I was pregnant. My mom asked me yesterday what I wanted/needed for Christmas and I started crying. I told her I wanted 5 dollars to get my child a stocking and a couple toys from Dollartree store so he would have a stocking Christmas morning. I just don't have it. She is mailing me a gift card so I can and she doesn't really have it either. Thoughts and prayers go out to families such as yours and mine. Merry Christmas

December 17 2011 at 5:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

this is a wonderful thing those people have done and it shows their is still love in our usa.

December 17 2011 at 7:26 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This story nearly brought tears to my eyes when I saw it yesterday. Very refreshing to hear about things like this still happening. Particularly when we have become a largely greedy, vain & selfish society. I wish I was in a position to do the same...

December 17 2011 at 6:27 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply