'Layaway Santas' Pay for Strangers' Holiday Gifts

Trend is on the rise

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 12, 2013 4:14 PM CST

(Newser) – "Layaway Santas" started popping up around the country in 2011, and the uplifting trend appears to be on the rise this season, NBC News reports. The way it works: "Secret Santas" visit a store that offers layaway and pay down strangers' accounts. (At many stores, the final payments for holiday presents are due at the end of this week, meaning that if an account isn't paid off, those gifts end up back on store shelves.) Walmart has tracked more than 1,000 cases this season. Kmart also offers layaway, as does Toys 'R' Us—and at the latter, for each layaway Santa, the company gives a $200 donation to Toys for Tots.

At most stores, employees at the layaway counter know all about these random acts of kindness, and will help you choose which account or accounts to pay off. They then call the customers to tell them their gifts can be picked up, and the good Samaritans remain anonymous. One California man gives his wife a receipt each year for her December birthday, showing the hundreds of layaway accounts he's paid off—260 in 2011, and more than 320 last year. And a New York man has started a bundling program, where he solicits donations here and then uses them to pay off as many accounts as he can.

In this Dec. 12, 2011, photo, Jeremy Lucas and Latasha Lucas pay off the rest of their layaway at the Kmart in Grand Rapids, Mich.
In this Dec. 12, 2011, photo, Jeremy Lucas and Latasha Lucas pay off the rest of their layaway at the Kmart in Grand Rapids, Mich.   (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Katie Greene)
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