The Christmas miracles just keep on coming. People around the country are yet again deciding the best way to spread the holiday spirit is to pay off the layaway accounts of total strangers, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
Gregory Parady, a 40-year-old man who owns a financial planning firm in central Florida, became a holiday season hero recently when word spread that he had cut a check for $20,000 to pay down the balances of 76 layaway accounts at a local Walmart. “My wife and I don’t want for a bunch of things and we know a lot of people do. I have a lot of people who work for me who are single moms,” Parady told the Orlando Sentinel. “It just hit me the right way at the right time. It was just a special thing to be able to do it.”
The phenomenon of individuals paying off the layaway accounts of total strangers first received widespread attention in 2011. In many cases, the beneficiaries of this kind of generosity have no idea who to thank because these “layaway angels” or “layaway Santas” have made their gifts anonymously.
Last week in southwestern Colorado, for example, a man who asked to remain anonymous paid $16,700 to cover the tabs of about 80 layaway accounts at a Walmart, the Durango Herald reported. The person who owed the most on layaway just so happened to be a Walmart employee, with $998 worth of goods on layaway—all paid off by the anonymous stranger.
An ABC station in North Carolina reported that another anonymous gift came by way of a pair of women in their 50s, who donated $2,000 to pay off nearly all of the balances for 10 layaway accounts at a Walmart in Asheville. One set of grandparents, for instance, said that the $70 they owed for their grandson’s Christmas presents was suddenly cut to just $4.97 after the layaway angels visited. “They put my faith in mankind back to where it needed to be,” the grandmother, Karen Fowler, said.
Walmart says that there have been more than 1,000 instances of strangers paying down the layaway accounts of total strangers this season. Secret Santas have reportedly paid $1.5 million collectively over the past few years toward strangers’ Kmart accounts.
One of the most consistently generous Santas, according to a story from NBC News’ Ben Popken, is Dave Wilson, a car dealership owner in Orange County, Calif., who has gotten into the habit of paying off hundreds of strangers’ Kmart layaway accounts at this time of year. He gives the receipts to his wife—appropriately named Holly—as a birthday gift:
In 2011, it was 260 accounts to the tune of nearly $16,000. In 2012, it was more than 320 accounts and $18,000. This year he plans for a repeat.
“It’s not passing out Christmas hams or turkeys,” said Wilson. “They have to pay at least 10 percent … this is something people have thought about and made an investment in.”
The layaway angel phenomenon has been popping up for a few years in a row around the holiday period, but this brand of generosity hasn’t been limited entirely to the Christmas season. Toward the end of August 2013, an anonymous woman who said she was terminally ill entered a Kmart in Maine and paid the overdue layaway balances of 16 accounts, according to the Bangor Daily News. The woman, who struggled simply walking through the store and had to pause and lean against shelves for support, paid nearly $3,000 for the strangers’ layaway accounts. Then she simply left, without leaving her name or sticking around waiting for someone to thank her.