Across the country, anonymous benefactors have been dropping into local Kmarts and paying off layaway balances for families with children.
It’s difficult to tell where this trend of generosity started – you can see reports from Patch sites across the country above – but it’s clear that where “layaway angels” tread, tears of joy follow.
The Trend is Growing
Since we first reported about layaway angels, 14 more people appeared at the Kmart in Palmer Township and paid off 20 contracts, according to store manager Rich Riddell. One angel, he said, read the article on Patch and went to the store because she thought it was a wonderful idea.
"One customer thought it was a hoax ... until she came in," Riddell said. "She broke down into tears when we brought out her kids' toys."
- South Whitehall
She said the store took inventory of its layaways and it had 40 with children’s toys and clothing. All but one – which has a balance of $227.86 – has been paid by “angels,” she said.
The store had been unable to contact one man whose phone was disconnected. When he came in to get his layaway and found out it had been paid off, he started crying “right in the layaway room,” Kirby said.
Since the article, more than 50 people have come to pay off laways, said manager Troy Schrantz from the South 4th Street store "People throughout the valley are being sent to that Kmart, he said, because there are no more laways to pay off at their own location.
"It's one of those things that reminds us that with all the hate in the world, there are still those who truely care about their fellow man," Riddell said.
As Layaway Orders Spike, So Do Angel Sightings
A product of the Great Depression, layaway numbers have made a startling comeback during the Great Recession.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving, the number of items on layaway triples, said Kmart assistant store manager Alicia Cirar in New Lenox, Ill. Nor is it uncommon for retail stores, such as Kmart and Wal-Mart to get a few angels every year, said Reddell, general manager of Kmart in Palmer Township.
“I’ve seen store managers nearly hugged to death.”
What’s new this year is the number of donations. Kmart manager Yvonne Messink a 27 year veteran of the company in Bloomfield Township, Mich., said that she didn't initially understand it.
"I initially was going to encourage her to support our St. Jude campaign, but she said, 'No,' and that she wanted to help a family with toys or clothing on layaway for the holiday," Messink said. She quickly obliged.
"It's been an organic development," said Shannell Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Sears Holdings Corp., which owns Kmart. "We don't promote it. We're just trying to keep up with the reports that keep coming in."
According to Armstrong the company is compiling an overview of the gifting, which is unlike anything it has ever experienced.
"I feel comfortable saying that we have well over a thousand benefactors in more than 25 states," she said.
Jubilation from the Recipients
"We had one woman who just became a grandmother and wasn't sure how she was going to pay for everything this Christmas,” said Gary Kennedy, Kmart store manager in Moon, Pa.
“We called and told her that her layaway was paid, and she started to cry."
“I’ve seen store managers nearly hugged to death,” said Reddell, the GM from the Easton, Pa. Kmart. “Then the customer usually breaks down in tears.”
West View, Pa. residents Jessica and Michael Zeppenfeld know that feeling.
“Last week we had heard about these Kmart angels making payments, and I said to my husband, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be amazing if someone paid our layaway?’ ” Jessica said.
“Literally 10 minutes later, a woman called from the Kmart and said a lady came in and made a payment on our layaway. We both started crying.”
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.