SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Good Samaritans have found a way to help needy Springfield families this holiday season. About a dozen people walked into the South Campbell Kmart and paid for the presents of strangers whose gifts sat on layaway.
"One young man came in who had gotten a $500 bonus from work. He just thought it was a great thing. He's even posted it online challenging his friends to do the same thing and he's come in and paid off several people's layaways," said sales manager Mike Gray. "It just creates a little joy during this joyous time of year."
With one act, bills in the hundreds of dollars dwindle down to one cent. Employees said the reactions of unsuspecting families are priceless.
"She just couldn't talk. She was crying and was God Blessing us. I said 'Don't God bless us, we're just the people who have your layaway!"' Rita Tillery, Kmart layaway associate explained excitedly.
A running list sits behind the counter with layaway orders that have a high number of kids clothes or toys on hold. Workers then anonymously match the Secret Santa with the family in need.
"Oh my, it's almost like a celebration back here in layaway. We're all going, 'It's wonderful, it makes me believe again, praise God.' I think a lot of us go home and say, 'Hey what can we do?"' Tillery said.
The good-will spreads around the store. While KSPR cameras were inside Kmart, five people paid the bills of others.
Russell Curtis went to Kmart to pay off his own layaway purchase. When he heard about what the layaway "angels" were doing around the community, he opened up his wallet and wanted to help.
"My mom gives us all $25 every year to give to anything," Curtis said, shrugging his shoulders. "It's the right thing to do."
20 needy families have already been helped this holiday season. It's a trend even long term employees didn't expect.
"I've been with Kmart, this is my 37th Christmas, and this is the first time that I can remember it happening," said Gray. "It's really a touching thing to see especially in this economy and in this time of year. I mean, that's what it's all about."
There are still close to 700 orders in the layaway system just at the South Campbell Kmart. If you would like to donate to a needy family, you must show up to the store in person. Santas and the families they help will remain a secret.
"There are people out there who do need our help and any amount of help. Even if you come in and pay $10 on layaway, its $10 that that other person doesn't have to come up with," said Tillery.
Holiday angels have donated money to every Kmart in Springfield and the trend continues across the country. Almost every state has reports of generous strangers paying off bills.