Santa seems to be arriving a little early this year — secretly arriving at Kmart stores across the country and easing the burden of some Christmas layaway accounts.
Across the discount chain, dozens of donors have paid off or made payments on the accounts of strangers. Kmart officials have had anonymous donors at stores in Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Michigan and Montana.
Among the stores that have seen the act of generosity was the Kmart on Brady Street in Davenport.
Store manager Amie Stone said a woman and her husband, who did not want to be identified, stopped in Monday and told store employees they wanted to pay on some customers’ accounts.
“I didn’t know what to say; I had to call my boss,” said Stone, who had never seen this happen in her 11 years with Kmart. “I was so touched.”
Stone said she chose four accounts that were either delinquent or had high balances. “We thought the best ones would be ones that have kids’ clothes and kids’ toys. That way, they would be helping a family.”
Although Stone would not reveal the amount the donor paid, she said the donation covered at least one payment for each account and caught up at least one delinquent account.
The trend at the Kmart stores has been for the benefactor to help families, particularly those who have laid away toys or clothes for young children.
Although the Quad-City donors did not want to be publicly recognized, Stone said she announced what the couple did — without identifying them — over the store’s intercom system as they were leaving the store Monday. “I said we have a true layaway angel.”
The customers who benefited from the generosity “were very excited” when store staff called to tell them what had happened, she added.
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At an Indianapolis store, a woman paid off the layaway accounts of up to 50 people. She even handed out $50 bills. A store manager said she was doing it in memory of her husband, who had just died.
Kmart representatives said they did nothing to instigate the secret Santas or spread word of the generosity. Kmart is one of the few large discount chains to offer layaway year-round for about four decades.
Stone said she is guessing the phenomenon might have something to do with the military “since the woman was dressed in fatigues.”
“I hope more people do this for our customers,” she added. “She was a great lady.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)