Layaway Angels renew the spirit of the season
Anonymous donors visit Kmart stores throughout the country, paying off layaways and spreading holiday cheer.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 15:06
ANGELS: They're everywhere this season. (Photo: slightly everything/Flickr)
Managing a retail store this time of year often puts a damper on my holiday spirit. I get excited in October as the new merchandise starts to roll in, and love the absolute-brand-new-toy feeling of my store decked out with signs and displays as we ready for Black Friday and the mad rush of the season. But come this close to Christmas, and I realize that I've worked too many hours to enjoy the festivities going on around me, that (as usual) I've not baked cookies, decked out the front yard, or even made a junk mail paper snowflake.
But my customers have truly made a difference in my life this year. My team and I always start the new year with some memorable moments and fantastic customer experiences from the holiday season. Whether it's helping someone find the oft-elusive gift they've been searching for, or the joy on a child's face as Santa Claus tours the store handing out candy canes, the good times are always with us. However, this is a December we will never forget.
Spurred on by an Associated Press article in our newspaper about a woman who had gone into her local Kmart and paid off stranger's layaways, several local families, some who have never even been in my store, have filtered in this week to do the same for my customers.
Since we are in a small town, we are lucky to know many of our customers' names and stories. When the first Layaway Angel appeared in my store, she requested to pay on a family that had several children, worked hard and struggled financially. She had a dollar amount in her head, but as we went through available contracts trying to find one that fit her description, another customer handed her cash to add to the total. We knew of a family that had recently been affected by a large automobile accident that claimed several children, friends of theirs, and told us when they originally put on their layaway that this would be a horrible Christmas for them, as they were strapped for cash and their spirits were tapped from the tragedy. Our first Angel wanted to make this holiday special for someone, and she certainly did.
The whole movement is infectious. Since this first experience, I've had several individuals come in with a dollar amount in mind, looking for one or more layaway contracts to pay off, usually with toys or children's clothing in them. One couple put down $500, giving five families a joyous holiday gift.
When I called a fellow manager to spread my good news, she had just had a husband and wife put down $2,000 on contracts, complete the payments for a customer who walked into the department while they were there, and even hand out cash to a woman buying toys for Christmas. Other stores in my district are reporting a similar trend. But this is certainly not a localized event. Stories are popping up in the news all over the country, from Hawaii to Boise and all the way to Miami, with every little town in between getting blessed with this phenomenon. People are excited to help the layaway customer, who is often a person living tightly within his or her means, who plans and budgets and utilizes the layaway system rather than using credit for their purchase. While this whole system is anonymous, the donator also knows where their money is going: most customers are local, we are able to tell them that this contract has bicycles or infant furniture, kids' clothing, or a lot of boots, and they know specifically that 100 percent of their money is going to a family.
The best role in this whole scenario is mine. I have had the fantastic experience of calling my customers to let them know that an anonymous person has paid off their layaway, wishing them a happy holiday, and hopefully alleviating some financial burden along the way. While the donors deserve all of the credit, I have gotten the hugs and tear-filled thanks, infusing me with a tremendous amount of holiday cheer.