Donors pay strangers’ shopping accounts

Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ shopping accounts at retail stores across the US, helping to buy the Christmas gifts that families couldn’t afford.
Lori Stearnes said at first she thought it was a joke when someone from her local Kmart store called to say someone had paid off most of her bill for toys and outfits she bought for the youngest four of her seven grandchildren.
The total bill was about $250, but after the stranger helped, she only had a $58 balance, she said. Ms Stearnes said she and her husband, Lloyd, live paycheck to paycheck and that layaway — the practice of paying off purchases bit by bit — often helps spread out the costs of Christmas.
“It just gives you a warm feeling,” said Ms Stearnes, 53.
A similar random act of kindness happened at a Kmart in Indianapolis, where a young father wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots stood in line at a layaway counter with 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, the store’s assistant manager. “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.”
Before she left the store on Tuesday evening, the woman had paid the 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,” Ms Deppe said. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to “remember Ben,” an apparent reference to her husband.
Ms Deppe, who said she has 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.
Dozens of other customers have received similar help in Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Montana.
The benefactors generally ask to help families who are buying items for young children. They often pay a portion of the balance, usually all but a few dollars or cents so the 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 Missouri and Chicago have also seen some layaway accounts paid off.
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 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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