Anonymous “layaway angels” have been the saving grace during this Christmas season for many needy families across the nation.
According to USA TODAY, mystery donors have been visiting stores and paying the balance on the layaway accounts that allow customers to pay for purchases over several months.
Some donors ask the store to put the money towards children’s toys or clothing, however, they aren’t told the recipients’ names.
The recipients do no learn the identities of the donors either.
Vic Sutherland, store manager at a Kmart in Lafayette, Indiana, said that more than 15 layaway accounts totaling almost $4,000 have been paid for by strangers.
Sutherland said, “It’s pretty awesome. With the economy the way it is, you wouldn’t expect it.”
A good number of the “angel” visits have been at Kmart stores. A spokeswoman for Sears Holdings Corp. (who owns Kmart’s 1,300 stores) said that the total amount of donations within Kmart stores have been more than $412,000 to more than 1,000 layaway accounts.
Walmart spokeswoman Dianna Gee said that layaway angels are visiting its stores “from coast to coast.”
A man donated $11,000 at a Walmart in Haleyville, Alabama to pay off the layaway accounts of 75 families.
This “layaway angel” phenomenon apparently began three weeks ago when a woman paid off three layaway charges at a Kmart in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The media coverage that followed must have prompted this trend of giving.
Last Friday, a man walked into a Hayward, California Kmart with $10,000 cash to pay down layaway accounts. He used $9,800 on 63 accounts and put the $200 that he had remaining into a Salvation Army kettle as he left the store.
The recipients have been reacting in many different ways, but the important thing is that they are all happy.
Assistant store manager Darlene Beverly called some of the recipients after their accounts were paid off. She said:
“Some scream, some holler — with joy, of course. They cry big time.”
Lori Stearnes, one of the recipients, thought it was a joke when a Kmart in Omaha called to tell her that someone had paid the $58 balance on her account. She said:
“It was a shock, of course, and then it just made me feel warm and fuzzy.”
Stearnes then went back to Kmart to pay it forward. She took in the money that she had set aside for the gifts, and used it to pay off two other layaway accounts.
Melissa Atwood, who got a call on Monday notifying her that someone had paid off her $120 layaway balance, said:
“There is still good will toward men out there.”
According to ABC News, researchers have looked at the theories of reward and personalized charity independently for years, but now labs are looking at how the two theories work together.
Scott Huettel, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, says that there’s no science to explaining why some choose to help complete strangers.
“It’s not explainable in direct order. At the end of the day you don’t get anything out of it but feeling good by helping others.”
Perhaps, for those willing to give, the act of service generates a tangible feeling that can’t be replaced.
George Bianchi, the store manager of the Kmart in Brockton, Massachusetts, said:
“I think people really want to help each other this year. And we feel absolutely wonderful about it.”