"Layaway Angels" Create Christmas Magic | Charity
What started as one woman's memorial to her husband has blossomed into a national altruistic movement spanning several states.
Dozens of anonymous donors paid off strangers' layaway accounts at local Kmart stores. More than 65 Las Vegas residents’ Kmart layaway accounts contained a handwritten note that merely read, "Happy Holidays from a friend." Their accounts were paid almost entirely in full.
It started with one woman in Omaha, Nebraska. "Remember Ben," she said, as she paid off the balances of dozens of Kmart customer's layaway account balances. "Ben" was the name of her recently-deceased husband.
At the Washington Avenue Kmart near Summerlin, Layaway Department Manager Debbie Cass saw anonymous donors trickle in slowly at first, then erupt into a full-blown, layaway-paying frenzy over the recent days.
"It's definitely created a domino effect. It seems to be contagious," Cass said. "It's been a really great experience and I am proud and honored to be a part of that."
Cass also organized the delivery of packages to the Armed Forces overseas as well as a massive, store-organized donation to the "Toys for Tots" program.
"While not everyone can benefit from the financial aspect of this, everyone benefits knowing that there is goodness in the world," Cass said.
Most donors asked to pay off accounts based on specific criteria. They wanted to pay off accounts that benefitted children or benefited families that had made an effort to pay off their balances and were close to their goal.
"The donors requested to pay accounts with children's toys, children's clothes, and kids' items," said Bill Speckman, General Manager of Washington Avenue Kmart. "Because of what one Las Vegas resident started – and mind you, he was incognito and totally anonymous – has blossomed into this completely altruistic, unprecedented event. I've never seen anything like it. I've got nine people working in layaway now since the start of this.
"We're calling them 'Layaway Angels' and 'Secret Santas.' I may need to hire additional staff, above the nine I already have, just for this if it keeps up."
Donors paid off balances from $25 to as much as $525 per customer with more than 65 customers affected.
One customer, a retired military veteran who witnessed an account being paid off by a Secret Santa, said that he was tired of hearing reported stories about crime and was delighted to hear about stories like the anonymous donors.
"You're a good person," he said, referring to the Secret Santa, "It makes me feel like there is some good in the world."
The effort apparently isn't isolated to Las Vegas donors. As far away as Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio, Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Florida, Maine, and Montana, it's reported that anonymous donors are showing up at local Kmart layaway counters asking to pay off balances of unpaid accounts.
"To everyone that paid off balances, I hope that your Christmas is just as wonderful as you made everyone else’s," said Tabetha Turnbo, Kmart Layaway department staffer.
"I've got one here with a balance of $28.23 and it's got two bikes on it, one boys’ bike and one girls’ bike. And I've got one with a large-screen plasma TV with an $82 balance."
"Let's do the two bikes one," Segal said as she swiped her debit card. "I decided that I was going to come in and do one family but ended up doing seven.”
When one anonymous donor was paying off balances, a child asked to her mother, "What are they doing, mommy?"
"They're creating Christmas magic, honey," the child's mother replied.
To that one anonymous woman in Omaha, Nebraska: Yes, dear. We're remembering Ben.