Layaway Santas

December 25, 2011 by staff 

Layaway SantasLayaway Santas, Tammy Kovacs was somewhat familiar with a recent trend in which people have anonymously paid off layaway bills for others. The phenomenon has made national headlines for incidents in Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Montana.

Add New York to the list. Kovacs got a similar surprise at the Warsaw Wal-Mart.

“They paid off $61. I couldn’t even function. Somebody having such a big heart and not thinking of themselves and thinking of someone else … I started balling. I was shocked,” she said Friday. “They were toys for my kids. My kids won’t know, but I will.”

She had put the items on layaway in the fall. Apparently the secret benefactor asked employees for a recommendation of one employee and two customers to help out. They suggested Kovacs. She works full-time as a job coach at Livingston County’s ARC and part-time at Wal-Mart and her husband has been laid off from his job.

Cathryn, 7, and 2-year-old Ethan still believe in Santa, and Kovacs has gradually been getting items to put under the tree for them. She is grateful for the help of Wyoming County Angel Action and now that her layaway tab has been paid in full.

“To have people be selfless and think about helping others is amazing,” she said.

That anonymous pay-off has been happening quite a bit at that Wal-mart, Store Manager Diane Waters said. She estimated at least half a dozen cases where someone paid off someone else’s goods.

There has been a lot of shock and surprise at the layaway counter, she said. And a residual effect on employees.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Waters said. “It definitely puts a smile on your face.”

The ”layaway Santas” seem to be visiting mainly Kmart stores, though a Wal-Mart spokesman said a few of his stores in Joplin, Mo., and Chicago have also seen some layaway accounts paid off, according to Associated Press.

It has been the same mixed experience locally. Wal-Marts in Batavia and Albion have not seen such action, employees said. But Batavia’s Kmart has “had quite a few today and throughout the season,” Store Manager Dave Dingle said Friday. Neither he nor employee Dawn Wylie, who works in the layaway department, recall it happening in past years.

“They are picking people randomly,” Wylie said of the benefactors. “(Customers) are very surprised. One was a woman who had a house fire. She was really happy. It’s nice.”

These good Samaritans have paid hundreds of dollars, with one tab totalling $500, Wylie said.

So why this particular form of goodwill this year? Connie Boyd, director of human services at GCC, said it may be related to the economy, since “we’re continuing to see real issues in terms of budgets and loss of jobs.” As someone who has worked in the human services field, both in direct care and on the management level, she learned how pride can affect those in need.

“It can be absolutely devastating to ask for and accept help, even if you’re deserving of it,” she said.

Being one of these secret Santas is a fun way to help out, she said.

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