Anonymous donors pay off Kmart layaway accounts

from Associated Press – At Kmart stores, Santa gets help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The young father stood in line at the Kmart layaway counter, wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots. With him were three small children.

He asked to pay something on his bill because he knew he wouldn’t be able to afford it all before Christmas. Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.

“She told him, ‘No, I’m paying for it,'” recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis. “He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn’t, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears.”

At Kmart stores across the country, Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn’t afford, especially toys and children’s clothes set aside by impoverished parents.

Before she left the store Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people. On the way out, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.

“She was doing it in the memory of her husband who had just died, and she said she wasn’t going to be able to spend it and wanted to make people happy with it,” Deppe said. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to “remember Ben,” an apparent reference to her husband.

Deppe, who said she’s worked in retail for 40 years, had never seen anything like it.

“It was like an angel fell out of the sky and appeared in our store,” she said.

Most of the donors have done their giving secretly.

Dona Bremser, an Omaha nurse, was at work when a Kmart employee called to tell her that someone had paid off the $70 balance of her layaway account, which held nearly $200 in toys for her 4-year-old son.

“I was speechless,” Bremser said. “It made me believe in Christmas again.”

Dozens of other customers have received similar calls in Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Montana.

The benefactors generally ask to help families who are squirreling away items for young children. They often pay a portion of the balance, usually all but a few dollars or cents so the layaway order stays in the store’s system.

The phenomenon seems to have begun in Michigan before spreading, Kmart executives said.

“It is honestly being driven by people wanting to do a good deed at this time of the year,” said Salima Yala, Kmart’s division vice president for layaway.

The good Samaritans seem to be visiting mainly Kmart stores, though a Wal-Mart spokesman said a few of his stores in Joplin, Mo., and Chicago have also seen some layaway accounts paid off.

Kmart representatives say they did nothing to instigate the secret Santas or spread word of the generosity. But it’s happening as the company struggles to compete with chains such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Kmart may be the focus of layaway generosity, Yala said, because it is one of the few large discount stores that has offered layaway year-round for about four decades. Under the program, customers can make purchases but let the store hold onto their merchandise as they pay it off slowly over several weeks.

The sad memories of layaways lost prompted at least one good Samaritan to pay off the accounts of five people at an Omaha Kmart, said Karl Graff, the store’s assistant manager.

“She told me that when she was younger, her mom used to set up things on layaway at Kmart, but they rarely were able to pay them off because they just didn’t have the money for it,” Graff said.

He called a woman who had been helped, “and she broke down in tears on the phone with me. She wasn’t sure she was going to be able to pay off their layaway and was afraid their kids weren’t going to have anything for Christmas.”

“You know, 50 bucks may not sound like a lot, but I tell you what, at the right time, it may as well be a million dollars for some people,” Graff said.

Graff’s store alone has seen about a dozen layaway accounts paid off in the last 10 days, with the donors paying $50 to $250 on each account.

“To be honest, in retail, it’s easy to get cynical about the holidays, because you’re kind of grinding it out when everybody else is having family time,” Graff said. “It’s really encouraging to see this side of Christmas again.”

Lori Stearnes of Omaha also benefited from the generosity of a stranger who paid all but $58 of her $250 layaway bill for toys for her four youngest grandchildren.

Stearnes said she and her husband live paycheck to paycheck, but she plans to use the money she was saving for the toys to help pay for someone else’s layaway.

In Missoula, Mont., a man spent more than $1,200 to pay down the balances of six customers whose layaway orders were about to be returned to a Kmart store’s inventory because of late payments.

Store employees reached one beneficiary on her cellphone at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where her son was being treated for an undisclosed illness.

“She was yelling at the nurses, ‘We’re going to have Christmas after all!'” store manager Josine Murrin said.

A Kmart in Plainfield Township, Mich., called Roberta Carter last week to let her know a man had paid all but 40 cents of her $60 layaway.

Carter, a mother of eight from Grand Rapids, Mich., said she cried upon hearing the news. She and her family have been struggling as she seeks a full-time job.

“My kids will have clothes for Christmas,” she said.

Angie Torres, a stay-at-home mother of four children under the age of 8, was in the Indianapolis Kmart on Tuesday to make a payment on her layaway bill when she learned the woman next to her was paying off her account.

“I started to cry. I couldn’t believe it,” said Torres, who doubted she would have been able to pay off the balance. “I was in disbelief. I hugged her and gave her a kiss.”

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Act 158 – Spread the Holiday cheer

Thursday, December 8, 2011, Act 158

If you’re cash-strapped, that doesn’t mean you can’t help others this holiday season.  Here are a few Web sites where you can give without a lot of green.

GoodShop.com & GiveClicks.com:  These sites donate a portion of proceeds to charity as you shop.

IDoFoundation.org:  Helps couples create gift registries, invitations and party favors that benefit charitable groups.

Soles4Souls.org:  Distributes shoes to poor and the disaster-struck around the world.

StuffedAnimalsForEmergencies.org & LovingHugs.org:  Gives your gently-used stuffed animals to children in need.

HandsOnNetwork.org & VolunteerMatch.org:  Pair you with local volunteer needs.

Act 157 – Babysitting cats

Tuesday, May 31, 2011, Act 157.

Yes it is true, people will do anything for their pets. Last night with the summer heat coming out in full force. My wife and I noticed some ants were making their way into our kitchen through the sliding glass door.

the cats

 

 

I had been out two days before spraying continuously around the back of the house, the sliding glass door, and all windows. But those suckers were still getting in. I reasoned that I couldn’t just spray all over the kitchen because of our two cats, their food, and their healthy well being. So we strategized what to do.

I figured we had to spray the ant kill inside to end this pestering. So we took the cats downstairs and locked the downstairs door to keep them away from the drop zone of spraying. I then continued to spray around the door inside, the floor in front of the door, the cabinet corner, and below the cabinets where little insect critters would try to hide. I felt comfortable spraying the insect killer because the cats were well away out of harms way.

After the spraying session, it had to dry before the animals could come back up stairs. I didn’t want them locked down in the basement alone, I mean they might get bored or something. Or worse tear up something down there.  So I spent the next two hours down in the basement babysitting the cats. They sure are a crazy animal. I enjoyed watching them, playing, and learning more about how they act (good and bad)!

Hopefully no more ants……

Act 110

Saturday, May 2, 2009.soy-food

While out watching some basketball with some friends, we were eating some dinner. I generously offered to buy some food for everyone to have while we watched the game. It was totally unexpected by everyone.

Wordle – makes art out of words

These are all the words from blog posts on Be Kind 365. Pretty cool!

Act 156 – Help a friend out

Thursday, May 26, 2011, Act 156.

It is getting so hot here in WV that on some days it is unbearable to walk around any long distances outside.  Today a co-worker had to travel across campus to pick up a University vehicle for a trip.

Even though the person said they would walk just fine, I wouldn’t have it. I wouldn’t want to walk in the heat and be sweating for my upcoming appointment and I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through that either.

I insisted that I give them a ride to pick up the vehicle and keep them calm, cool and collected for their afternoon appointment. It only took a few minutes of my time, but I believe it paid huge dividends for the person to stay cool and not be frustrated by the heat and the long walk.