In this big bah-humbug world of ours, it's hard to find a story that defies cynicism. But these tales of anonymous "guardian angel" shoppers who have been paying off the KMart layaway balances for poor families trying to buy Christmas presents for their kids is one of those bawl-inducing items that will make even the smallest of hearts grow three sizes. Hope you've been properly stretching and lubricating your tear ducts, because these are doozies.
According to Yahoo News, the secret giving trend that's quietly spreading originated in Michigan, and the story usually goes something like this: an anonymous person calls a KMart store's layaway department and asks to help pay down the balance of a family who has put toys on layaway. The Stealth Santa won't pay the entire balance; they'll leave a few cents to several dollars remaining to keep the items on hold. Then, someone from the layaway department will call the family and tell them that their Christmas shopping is paid for, save a few odd dollars, and that they can pick it up when they're ready.
Dona Bremser, an Omaha nurse, was at work when a Kmart employee called to tell her that someone had paid off the $70 balance of her layaway account, which held nearly $200 in toys for her 4-year-old son.
"I was speechless," Bremser said. "It made me believe in Christmas again."
But that's not all! There's also the Missoula, Montana man who paid down $1200 worth of layaway for six customers whose accounts showed late layaway payments. A woman who found out that someone had paid down her layaway while visiting her son in the hospital. Another woman who called to pay off three strangers' layaway accounts because she remembered being poor as a kid.
This breed of charitable holiday givers has tended to favor KMart due to the fact that it's one of the only large discount chains that allows customers to use layaway year-round. But other stores like Target and Wal Mart have reported anonymous gifts to help cash-strapped shoppers with kids buy their Christmas gifts.
And not every UnGrinch has conducted his or her merry business over the phone. In one Indianapolis, Indiana KMart store, a woman mourning her husband channelled her grief into giving. She started her kindness rampage while standing in line behind a tired-looking man with three kids in tow making a layaway payment on some Christmas gifts.
"She told him, 'No, I'm paying for it,'" recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis. "He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn't, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears."
Store employees said they'd never seen anything like it.
Before she left the store Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people. On the way out, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.
"She was doing it in the memory of her husband who had just died, and she said she wasn't going to be able to spend it and wanted to make people happy with it," Deppe said. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to "remember Ben," an apparent reference to her husband.
And... it's raining on my face.
Officials from KMart swear they have nothing to do with the grassroots push, that it's just a group of compassionate people with a little extra to give over the holiday season. Whoever or whatever is behind this: you owe me like six Kleenexes.