Friday, December 23, 2011

Secret Santas pay down layaway debt

'Layaway angels' pay off accounts of customers in need

Bob Warren, The Times-Picayune 
Several times this holiday season, Mandeville Kmart general manager Eric Booker has been called to the checkout area by excited cashiers.
kmart-manager.jpgView full sizeMandeville Kmart store manager Eric Booker, who has been with Kmart for 12 years, said he has never experienced anything like the layaway angels.
"They yell, 'Eric, we got another one. Eric, we got another one,' " Booker said. "We look forward to it."
It happened again on Tuesday.
"A gentleman came in and pulled out $2,000 in hundred-dollar bills," Booker said Wednesday from his busy store off U.S. 190. "He said he didn't have anything better to do with it and he wanted to help someone."
It marked yet another case in which an anonymous donor paid off the layaway account of a customer in need. Booker said 14 people have come to the Mandeville Kmart in recent weeks to pay off someone else's account, part of a nationwide phenomenon dubbed the "layaway angels."
News accounts from across the country this holiday season have chronicled the donations. Most appear to be happening at Kmart stores, although a handful of similar acts have been reported at Walmart stores as well.
A Walmart spokesperson said Wednesday that there had been similar incidents at Walmart stores, as well as some cases where shoppers as an act of holiday good will have simply offered to pay for the purchases of other shoppers. But she said she knew of no such incidents at New Orleans-area Walmarts.
A Sears/Kmart media representative said Tuesday that anonymous donors across the nation had covered more than $400,000 in layaway bills for other customers. The representative, who said he could not be quoted by name, said the first such case was at a Plainfield, Mich., store, and that it has grown so fast that store managers have been asked to alert company officials when such donations are made so the company can keep a tally.
Booker said he hasn't heard of "layaway angels" making an appearance at any other Kmarts around the New Orleans area.
He said anonymous donors at his store have donated about  $10,000, enough to settle 40 to 50 layaway accounts. Booker said the store matches the donations to accounts for which customers are having difficulty paying.
Booker, who has been with Kmart for 12 years, said he has never experienced anything like it.
"I've seen things where someone helps cover somebody else's bill in the checkout line if their check is declined or something like that," he said. "But this is totally different."
He said the donors don't appear to be affiliated with any particular group and none has sought publicity.
Booker said he's had the pleasure of calling customers who were having difficulty paying on their layaway accounts to tell them they had been covered by an anonymous giver. The initial reaction is disbelief, usually followed by loud cheering, he said.

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