At Kmart stores around the country, anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts, buying the toys, clothes and other holiday gifts that some families couldn’t afford.
On Tuesday evening, one Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people. Before leaving the store, she handed out $50 bills and paid for the order of a woman in line at the cash register–two carts full of toys. She apparently told people she was doing it in memory of her husband and only asked people to “remember Ben.”
In other store, the donors have usually done their giving secretly.
A nurse in Omaha Nebreska, Dona Bremser, was called by a Kmart employee called who told her that someone had paid off her layaway account (a $70 balance) allowing her to bring hom $200 in toys for her 4-year-old son.
Bremser said, “I was speechless…It made me believe in Christmas again.”
Similar calls have been received by dozens of other customers in Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Montana and Indiana. The benefactors usually ask to help families with toys or clothes on layaway for young children. They often pay some of the balance, leaving just a few dollars or cents on the account so the layaway order stays in the store’s system to be claimed by the surprised shoppe later.
Kmart executives claim that the phenomenon seems to have begun in Michigan and spread from there.
Salima Yala, Kmart’s division vice president for layaway said, “It is honestly being driven by people wanting to do a good deed at this time of the year.”
The benefactors seem to be mainly going to Kmart stores, but a spokesman for Wal-Mart said a few of their stores in Joplin, Mo., and Chicago have also had some layaway accounts paid off.
Although this is happening as Kmart struggles to compete with chains like Wal-Mart and Target, Kmart representatives claim that they did nothing to encourage the good Samaritans or advertise their generosity. Yala said that Kmart may be the biggest recipient of the layaway generosity because it has offered layaway year-round for nearly four decades.
Under the layaway program, customers can make a down payment on purchases and let the store keep their merchandise until they pay it off, often slowly over several weeks.