Anonymous benefactors have been dropping into Kmart stores from California to the Lehigh Valley and paying off layaway balances of families with children.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Rich Reddell, general manager of the . “We typically get one or two layaway angels a year.”
The Kmart on Tilghman Street in South Whitehall already had 10 angels who paid off store layaways that included children's winter boots, games and clothing. The Kmart had three angels drop in just last weekend.
“I’ve seen store managers nearly hugged to death,” Reddell said. “Then the customer usually breaks down in tears.”
When a donor comes into the store, staff members choose families who are delinquent on their layaway balances and who have purchased items for children such as toys and clothing, he said.
"With money from the angel, we pay the balance down to one penny, so we can identify the customer and give them a call."
Reddell is the one who telephones the families.
“I’ve come close to tears myself,” he said. “It’s really a gratifying feeling to call a customer and hear how excited and happy they are at the news. It gets very emotional.”
Layaway contracts at Kmart are for eight weeks. For purchases more than $300 a 12-week option is available. Many customers started putting merchandise for Christmas on layaway weeks ago.
A product of the Great Depression, layaway allowed customers to purchase merchandise over time in small amounts until the full balance was paid. Some stores discontinued the practice when credit cards became so prevalent, but layaway has become popular again because of the economic recession.
Layaway angels have visited the Kmart about three times this season. And Reddell said he expects a couple more this week.
In the meantime, Kmart shoppers can also donate to the Salvation Army.
There’s a tree at the front of the store with paper ornaments that list a gift item such as mittens or a toy. Customers take the ornament, buy the gift, then Kmart staff wrap it and the Salvation Army picks it up.
Reddell said he’s already collected more than 100 gifts.
You can give at the registers, too. Kmart is the largest donation generator for St. Jude’s Cancer Research Hospital.
“It’s really a pleasure to do things like this,” Reddell said. “As tight as the economy is ... we’re still making people happy.”