The nation’s largest retailer refers to them as “layaway angels,” and they helped pay off nearly 4,000 accounts this year at Walmart stores across the country.
The biggest donation — $25,000 — came from an anonymous man at the Bellfontaine store in Ohio. That generous individual wasn’t alone in thinking of others this holiday season. Church groups, businesses, schools and countless others make a point of giving back to their communities.
At the Moraine Walmart on Dorothy Lane, store manager Ramy Awad said about a dozen people have made gift payments for layaways ranging from $20 to more than $1,000.
The store’s computers randomly identifies customers who have toys on layaway. Once accounts are paid off, a customer is notified by a text or email message. Then Awad, who has worked for area Walmart stores for 15 years, waits for the calls.
“(The message) says ‘a good Samaritan has paid off your layaway.’ Sometimes people will call the store and say, ‘Are you messing with me?’
“I’ve had people literally in tears when they call. It’s great to see the human spirit come out.”
That happens at other stores, too. Meijer gave more than $3,000 to local organizations to shop for the Toys for Tots program. Kettering firefighters shopped for the program last week.
At Toys R Us, “hundreds” of layaway orders have been paid off this holiday season, according to a company spokesperson. When that happens, Toys R Us donates $200 worth of merchandise to the Toys for Tots program.
Ron Monmaney, manager at the Kmart on Woodman Drive in Riverside, said charitable people paid off $800 in layaway accounts last week. Some wanted their gifts to go to accounts that were close to expiring.
A single penny is always left on accounts to keep them open, so customers get a nice surprise when they go to the store to settle up.
“We really don’t know who the angels are,” Monmaney said. “My guess is it’s a church group and they’re giving someone a Merry Christmas.”
The Santa Shop
Tasha Young of Dayton was in line at 8:30 a.m. Friday, four hours before the Santa Shop was scheduled to open at Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley. The organization makes Christmas brighter for more than 500 families every year by distributing donated gifts.
Young was happy to get two bags of gifts for her children. Money is tight, she said, because her husband has cerebral palsy and the couple’s only source of income is his disability check.
But she wasn’t the only one with a smile on her face. Twenty-five volunteers inside the cramped building were getting a reward, too, bagging up treasures such as board games, basketballs and Barbie dolls. One of them, Alissa Becker, had returned from Indiana University the day before so she could work the long day with her mom, Ann.
Alissa, an Alter High School graduate, was one of the helpers who delivered bags of gifts to those waiting in line.
“When I call their names and hand a bag to a mom knowing she’ll be able to provide gifts for her kids, it means so much,” she said.
High school students contributed to the cause — Alter and Chaminade Julienne donated hundreds of pairs of pajamas and Carroll’s boys basketball team helped set up the shop.
Regina Estep, development director for the nonprofit, said the Santa Shop is needed now more than ever.
“It tugs at the heartstrings when people call and say, ‘This is the first time I haven’t had money to get my kids gifts,’ ” she said. “We are fortunate that Dayton is a very charitable city.”
Carey Cooper spent many hours last week shopping for Christmas gifts — for two families she didn’t know.
Cooper, who works for Cascade Corporation in Springfield, led an effort to help families in Springfield and Enon who were referred to the business by Enon Emergency Relief.
She did her homework for the families with two and three children, respectively.
“When I was in the sixth grade I was on the receiving end of this, so it has a special place in my heart,” Cooper said. “Talking to the families beforehand, there were some tearful conversations. … Maybe this will help them believe in the magic of the holidays.”
About 50 Cascade employees contributed to the cause. John Mick went one step further; he won an employee raffle and donated his winnings to purchase a pair of bicycles for the families.
The spirit of giving touched the employees and plant manager Rodney Hickman.
“To see the looks on their faces when you deliver, it’s overwhelming,” Hickman said. “You can tell it’s beyond what they were expecting. To help people who desperately need the help, that is your Christmas.”
Most generous states
The top five states in which “layaway angels” made the most payments on other people’s accounts at Walmart stores this year:
4. North Carolina