Thursday, December 15, 2011


Dannell Goddard works in the Kmart on Plainfield in
Grand Rapids. The layaway-paying Secret Santa Craze
that began here has quickly reached across the country...

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.

Christmas came early for three people in West Michigan when a stranger picked up the tab on some presents.  It happened Monday night at the Big Kmart on the 4000 block of Plainfield Avenue in Plainfield Township. A woman, described only as "being in her 30s," walked up to the layaway desk, pushing a shopping cart full of toys she planned to donate.

"This lady came up randomly and said, 'Can I, you know, pay off some people's layaway?'" said Dannell Goddard. Goddard works at Kmart in the layaway department. She told 24 Hour News 8 that when she first heard the request, she was a bit confused.  "I was like, 'Well, are you trying to pick them up? 'Cause you can't pick them up if you don't have an ID," Goddard said. "And the mystery woman replied, 'Nope, I just want to help people.'"

The woman looked through several of the about 800 layaway contract tickets at the store. She randomly picked and paid the bill on three of them. She paid about $500 between all three of them and left a $10 balance on each of the accounts. The woman's only requirement was that there were toys in the layaway orders.

"It was really crazy the way she did it. She was so excited and so happy to do it," said Goddard. "She had a great heart, and I told her that I felt like she had a great heart, and she said she doesn't want to take appreciation for it. She just felt that she was blessed and she wanted to bless others."

One of the recipients of that kindness was Mary Chapin. She told 24 Hour News 8 the act of kindness "restored her faith in people."  Chapin had put about $200 worth of toys on layaway for her autistic son, David, Monday afternoon. She said she hoped she'd be able to pay off the balance by the week before Christmas.

Then she got a call from Kmart that changed all that. "They said that someone had paid $180 on my layaway and there was only $10 left," said Chapin. "I thought it was a joke."  Chapin wanted to say thank you, but the only clue to the woman's identity was a message on her receipt that read, "Happy Holiday from a friend."

"I thank her. It's the best gift that I ever received, and it's the gift of believing in people," said Chapin. "And believing that there's good out there, 'cause you don't always see that."  The entire layaway order was for 12-year-old David who has autism. Chapin told 24 Hour News 8 she was so excited she gave her son one of those toys, a brand new LEGO set.

Chapin has her own name for her family's Secret Santa. She calls the woman "an angel" for her family. She said that angel gave her family a far bigger gift than the toys themselves.  "Even though we're all in the same boat, nobody's thinking about anyone else, it's every man for himself," said Chapin. To have somebody come along behind, and just do something that's totally unnecessary but so appreciated, it just really made a difference."

That woman, whoever she is
 (Mrs. Claus, perhaps?), should be
very proud of what she started...


It's easy …  just pick a dollar amount!


In just a week's time, one woman's generosity at a Plainfield Township Kmart's layaway counter has inspired similar acts of kindness not only at that store but at some of the retailer's other stores in Michigan and across the country. News of her good deed inspired a man from a charity to go in the next day to pay off 14 accounts worth about $2,000.

Since then, it has been a domino effect of generosity. People have been going to the store to pay off accounts or make payments for strangers. As of Tuesday, more than 40 accounts have been paid off at the Plainfield store, with donations topping $5,000. The paid-off layaway accounts have averaged $150. "It's wonderful," said Carol Vernon, assistant manager at the store. "It's just brought back the true spirit of Christmas." Vernon said it has been enjoyable watching the shock and gratitude expressed by those who benefited from these Secret Santas.

One was an older woman who learned her bill had been reduced to 40 cents. Her husband was laid off from his job the day before and the coming months were going to be a hardship. Another was a mother of eight children. The paid-off layaway accounts have ranged in value from $60 to nearly $300. She hopes the Christmas spirit continues, with more people donating money toward good causes.

Vernon said those stepping forward to make the payments made sure the accounts involved items such as children's clothing, coats, toys and necessities. "That's one of the stipulations people had. It's not going for frivolous stuff like big televisions," she said.

Kmart cashier Zach Watkins retrieves layaway items for
a customer at the Kmart on Plainfield in Grand Rapids.

Vernon said the gestures have created an atmosphere of excitement in the store. "The morale among employees is great. Everyone was in tears, excited and happy," she said. Kmart employees have enjoyed being the conduit between these quiet givers and the grateful recipients. "It's kind of shocking and surprising to us," said Dan Veenstra, an assistant manager who has worked at the store for 23 years. "In the past, people have paid off layaways for friends, neighbors, co-workers or someone they knew. But for someone to pay off a stranger's bill, we haven't seen that."

In West Michigan 24 Hour News 8 caught Eric Crandle and his son paying it forward Saturday. For them, giving is personal. "Our granddaughter was diagnosed with cancer and the people that have outreached and helped us has been overwhelming," Crandle, Sr. said. "So to help others is the thing to do."

Jamie Reece had to put a box of tissues on her Kmart layaway counter. A secret Santa hit the Hastings, Michigan, store late last week, bringing in $5,000 to pay off 50 layaway accounts. "I wanted to go get a Santa hat - I felt like Santa's little messenger that day when I got to tell people their layaways were paid for," said Reece. "It was the most wonderful feeling. There were a lot of tears."

"What a wonderful thing, and we're just so blessed to be able to be part of it," she said. "There are so many people here in so much need, and this is just such a wonderful, generous gift." Reece, who's worked at Kmart for about a year, said it was, by far, the best day of work. "I wanted to stay in layaway all day and not go anywhere else," she said. "It just really blows you away that people will do this."

"The beauty of this is that it's organic and coming from the customers and not from us," said Salima Yala, Kmart's division vice president for layaway. "It's being driven by outside the company. It's just people to people." The fact people as far away as California have latched onto the idea shows what good deeds can do, Latasha Lucas said. "You never know the effects just one act of kindness can have," she said.

Dannelle Goddard helps Jeremy Lucas as he looks
through a box of things that he and his wife bought
their son for Christmas after paying off their layaway.

Since then, such Secret Santa acts of kindness appear to be snowballing. The news of the generosity has inspired similar acts in other Kmart stores. A woman paid off $5,000 in layaway bills at the Kmart store in Hastings, and others did something similar in Jackson and Detroit-area stores. There have been similar reports of Secret Santa activity in Kmart stores in Nebraska, North Carolina and California.

In Jackson, Michigan,  two men paid off layaway accounts, worth more than $500, for about 15 people,

In Omaha, Nebraska, anonymous donors have paid off an unspecified number of Kmart layaway accounts.

In Burlington, North Carolina,  an anonymous man contributed $100 to a woman's layaway account — where she had set aside $200 worth of toys to donate to a needy family.

In Indianapolis, Indiana, a widow used some of her inheritance to become a Secret Santa.

In Davenport, Iowa  after one stranger paid off a layaway ticket, three more followed suit. Similar reports surfaced in Nebraska and California. A Kmart store in Anaheim called the Grand Rapids store Saturday to ask advice on layaway payoffs after someone saw the original story and wanted to pay off $5,000 in layaway tabs.

This wave of Christmas cheer reached   southeast Michigan  a few days ago when a shopper in Walmart decided to pick up the $187 tab of the family behind him in line. The family was happy and grateful that a stranger randomly decided to help them out with their groceries and Christmas shopping.


SOURCE: and other media sites

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Inspiration Line issue this week
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