It’s difficult to tell where this trend of generosity started -- you can see reports of the donations that Patch sites across the country above -- but it’s clear that where “layaway angels” tread, tears of joy follow.
Assistant manager Amal Derias said approximately 15 to 20 angels have been coming to the Kmart store each day since last week.
“If you just see the faces of the people when they hear their layaways have been paid, oh my god they just start screaming!” Derias said. “They are just so happy.”
Cashier Chelsea Davenport added that some people come in asking to pay a bill around $100. She said she heard that one angel arrived yesterday and paid $1,000 in layaway bills.
“I have a really cool job right now,” Davenport said. “I’ve worked here for three years and this has never happened.”
As Layaway Orders Spike, So Do Angel Sightings
A product of the Great Depression, layaway numbers have made a startling comeback during the Great Recession.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving, the number of items on layaway triples, said Kmart assistant store manager Alicia Cirar in . Nor is it uncommon for retail stores, such as Kmart and Wal-Mart to get a few angels every year, said Rich Reddell, general manager of Kmart in .
“I’ve seen store managers nearly hugged to death.”
What’s new this year is the number of donations. Kmart manager Yvonne Messink a 27 year veteran of the company in , said that she didn't initially understand it.
"I initially was going to encourage her to support our St. Jude campaign, but she said, 'No,' and that she wanted to help a family with toys or clothing on layaway for the holiday," Messink said. She quickly obliged.
"It's been an organic development," said Shannell Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Sears Holdings Corp., which owns Kmart. "We don't promote it. We're just trying to keep up with the reports that keep coming in."
According to Armstrong the company is compiling an overview of the gifting, which is unlike anything it has ever experienced.
"I feel comfortable saying that we have well over a thousand benefactors in more than 25 states," she said.
Jubilation from the Recipients
"We had one woman who just became a grandmother and wasn't sure how she was going to pay for everything this Christmas,” said Gary Kennedy, Kmart store manager in .
“We called and told her that her layaway was paid, and she started to cry."
“I’ve seen store managers nearly hugged to death,” said Reddell, the GM from Pennsylvania Kmart. “Then the customer usually breaks down in tears.”
. residents Jessica and Michael Zeppenfeld know that feeling.
“Last week we had heard about these Kmart angels making payments, and I said to my husband, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be amazing if someone paid our layaway?’ ” Jessica said.
“Literally 10 minutes later, a woman called from the Kmart and said a lady came in and made a payment on our layaway. We both started crying.”
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.