Across America, "Secret Santas" paying off families' layaway balances

It's sweeping America -- total strangers asking store managers to apply $50, $100, $500 and even larger amounts to past-due toy and children's clothing accounts

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“Then a gentleman came in a few days ago,” store manager Dean Paul said. “He asked one of my assistant managers … to find a layaway of children’s toys.”

The balance on the purchase was $225, Paul said, and the anonymous stranger promptly put $200 on the counter.

“We called the customer to notify her. She was very, very happy. She was in tears,” Paul said said. “She came in to pay off the balance and take home the toys in time for Christmas.”

In Florida, Emily Roach of the

Palm Beach Post

newspaper reported a man had put town the last money he owned for Christmas toys and clothes for his five children, ages 16, 13, 12, 9 and 6. Cesar Pereira “spent his last paycheck on a $200 payment for the layaway bundle,

but didn’t know where the last $200 would come from after he lost his landscaping job two weeks ago.

A California recipient hugs the store manager

“I was excited. I couldn’t believe it,” Pereira told Roach upon learning the balance had been paid by a total stranger. “We were really in a tight jam.”

Anonymous donors brought checks totaling $15,000 to the Lantana, Florida, Kmart at about 1 p.m. Tuesday, according to manager Lisa Bowman. Together, they sifted through layaway accounts for hours, paying off the ones with toys, clothes and other gift items.

When one woman came to release two toys from her layaway order because she couldn’t afford them, Bowman said, “You’re not returning anything.”

Learner guitars, Mario Kart games, clothes and cameras all came out of Kmart layaway storage, compliments of the Secret Santas.

“It’s very exciting to see,” Lake Park Kmart manager Scott Reuter told the newspaper.

He said most of the Secret Santas aren’t wealthy. 

No, he marveled, “The people that come in are just average people.”

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Rob Kerby
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