(Photo: REUTERS/Phil McCarten)
Kmart workers across the country are witnessing a strange phenomenon. Anonymous donors are helping complete strangers pay for their layaway accounts this holiday season.
In Indianapolis, a woman stepped up to pay for around 50 people’s layaway accounts. She said she was doing it as a memorial to her husband who had just died, according to The Associated Press. She handed out $50 bills to a few customers, and at the cash register she paid for two carts of toys for a woman standing in line.
The generous woman even caused a grown man to cry when she told him she was going to pay for his bill at the layaway counter, AP reported. He had three children with him, and she heard him request to put his payment on his bill because he couldn’t afford all of their gifts before Christmas.
"She told him, 'No, I'm paying for it,'" recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis, to AP. “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."
It’s not just happening in Indianapolis though. Customers in Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Montana have gotten calls from their local Kmart letting them know someone paid off their account.
Kmart executives aren’t sure if it’s an organized event, but they do say people paying off layaway accounts seems to have begun in Michigan.
In Concord, N.C., Assistant Manager for the area Kmart John Bopp told CP that every year there are a few accounts that donors pay off, but it seems to be really catching on this year. It recently happened at his store when a woman came in and paid for four layaway accounts.
“Everybody wants everything anonymous,” Bopp told CP. So when someone comes in the store asking to help pay off an account, the store managers look first at the people who are behind on their payments. Then they assign those accounts to donors looking to help.
Bopp said he hasn’t seen or heard about the reaction of those who were helped at his store, but he’s “sure they’ll be thrilled” because the spirit behind it is really about people helping others.
Salima Yala, Kmart's division vice president for layaway, echoed Bopp’s sentiment when she told AP, "It is honestly being driven by people wanting to do a good deed at this time of the year."
Many of the benefactors who come in to Kmart stores request to help families who have put toys and items for children on their layaway account. Some of them pay for part of the balance, others pay for everything.
A woman came into an Omaha, Neb., Kmart and paid off five people’s accounts. She remembered how hard it was for her mom to pay off layaway accounts when she was younger and wanted to help people in that situation.
In Missoula, Mont., a man paid down the balances of six customers whose layaway orders were about to expire. If it wasn’t for his efforts, all of their items would have been returned to the Kmart inventory because of late payments. He spent more than $1,200 to pay for it all.