Dispatches: Layaway Angels Spread Generosity Through and Beyond Western PA
Families in Moon and West View have been beneficiaries of Kmart "angels" who have made anonymous payments on strangers' layaway accounts. Others around the region have joined the host of generous angels who've popped up all over the country.
Across the country this holiday season, anonymous benefactors have dropped into local Kmarts and paid off layaway balances for families with children.
It’s difficult to tell where this trend of generosity started—you can see reports of the donations reported by Patch sites across the country [ above ]—but it’s clear that where “layaway angels” tread, tears of joy follow.
In the North Hills, anonymous benefactors have shown up and helped "a bunch" of families at the McIntyre Square Kmart in Ross, manager Mike Divoky said.
Elsewhere in Western Pennsylvania, "angels" have worked their magic in Moon Township by paying down balances for at least a half-dozen families who had laid away items at the Kmart on Beaver Grade Road. Others have turned up to pay the layaway orders of customers at the Super Kmart on Marketplace Boulevard in Moon.
"Since last week, every store in the area has had at least one," Divoky said.
As Layaways Spike, So Do 'Angel' Sightings
A product of the Great Depression, the practice of layaways has made a startling comeback during the Great Recession.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving, the number of items on layaway triples, said Alicia Cirar, assistant manager of the Kmart store in New Lenox, IL. 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 Easton, PA, across the state in Northhampton County.
“I’ve seen store managers nearly hugged to death.”
What’s new this year is the number of donations. In Bloomfield Township, MI, Kmart manager Yvonne Messink, a 27-year veteran of the company, said that she didn't initially understand it when a would-be "angel" approached her.
"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," said Messink, who quickly obliged the woman.
"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 Recipients
“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 manager of the Kmart in Easton, PA. “Then the customer usually breaks down in tears.”
West View 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 Zeppenfeld said.
“Literally 10 minutes later, a woman called from the Kmart and said a lady came in and made a payment on our layaway," she said. "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.