An anonymous merrymaker spread some holiday cheer last week by paying $500 toward the layaway accounts of three strangers at a Kmart in Michigan. Since then, copycat Secret Santas have followed suit, giving thousands of dollars for layaways in other stores around the country.
Last Tuesday, according to WOOD TV in Michigan, a woman in her 30s walked up to the layaway counter at a Kmart and asked if she could pay off someone’s layaway balance. The clerk was confused, but allowed the woman to browse through layaway accounts. The woman ultimately selected three—she was looking, specifically, for ones in which toys had been purchased—and then paid off around $500 total for the three accounts, leaving a balance of just $10 on each. Then she disappeared, leaving just a note on the layaway receipts that read “Happy Holidays from a friend.”
One beneficiary of the act of anonymous kindness—a mom who’d put $200 worth of toys on layaway for her son David—said that the Secret Santa “restored her faith in people.”
(PHOTOS: Santa Claus, the Holly, Jolly Stuntman)
The story doesn’t end there, though.
The Detroit News reports that the same Kmart has had Secret Santa donations toward layaways of at least $150 every day since the original mysterious stranger arrived. Copycats have also been paying off layaways at other stores in Michigan, and as far away as California. One man anonymously dropped off $2,000 to cover the layaway items of strangers.
Despite the feel-good tale, layaway remains a less-than-ideal solution for shoppers. One business professor argued it’s better to pay with a credit card and deal with APRs rather than buying goods via layaway.
But if someone else winds up paying your bill? Then layaway appears like a miraculously good deal.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
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