A generosity phenomenon is spreading like wildfire this Christmas season – “Secret Santas” walking up to layaway counters and paying off balances owed by total strangers.
The phenomenon may have begun in Michigan where a woman paid off three layaway charges at a Grand Rapids Kmart. Media coverage prompted a slew of copycat givers. Then it spread to stores in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Montana and beyond, according to Kmart executives.
Usually the benefactor swears clerks to secrecy, then asks them to find layaway accounts where children’s clothing or toys have been put aside – usually with the customer paying a little each month, then showing up just before Christmas with final payment.
Lori Stearnes thought it was a prank when an Omaha Kmart clerk called to tell her that a Secret Santa had paid off the $58 owed on her account, according to USA Today. “It was a shock, of course, and then it just made me feel warm and fuzzy,” she says. She picked up the