Layaway angels help Christmas shoppers in Clovis

Kmart shoppers get financial help with Christmas accounts.

The Fresno BeeDecember 18, 2011 

Christmas shoppers at Clovis' Kmart who lack the cash to bring home their presents are getting some unexpected -- but entirely welcome -- help.

Layaway angels -- anonymous customers who pay the tabs for one or more accounts -- are becoming more common each day, Clovis Kmart store manager Mike Lee said Saturday.

According to Lee, one anonymous woman called him and simply said, "I want to be a layaway angel." On Friday, the woman paid the layaway tab for four different families.

The woman told Lee she was inspired by a story published in The Bee last week about a layaway angel in Indianapolis who was donating in her late husband's memory and asked her recipients to "remember Ben."

The Indianapolis woman has paid the tab on layaway orders for as many as 50 people.

On the way out of a store last Tuesday, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.

Lee said the Clovis layaway angel also wanted to donate money in the memory of her late husband.

One man whose bill was paid by a different layaway angel was "ecstatic" to hear he would be able to bring home Christmas gifts for his family, Lee said.

The mysterious donations are becoming a trend across the entire chain, one of the few major retailers still offering year-round layaway to its customers.

The motivations of layaway angels can vary, and Lee tries to accommodate their philanthropy.

Some donors will look through Kmart's delinquent accounts list and choose an account or accounts that they will either pay off or make a payment on.

Before the account is credited, Lee checks to see what was purchased.

"I want to make certain they're not giving to someone who bought a TV on layaway," he said.

Most accounts that layaway angels pay off are those with children's clothing and toys.

"They are trying to make sure that [their donations] give kids a Christmas," Lee said.

In the end, though, Lee lets the donor choose. Some will wait around the layaway desk to pick a customer they wish to help, which was the case with another woman who helped out a Valley family.

"She waited for the right customer," Lee said.

During this holiday season at the Clovis store, Lee said, 15 to 20 layaway accounts either were paid off or had payments made by layaway angels, including two on Saturday.

"There's been more giving this year than I've seen in any other year I've worked in retail," he said.

The reporter can be reached at atavlian@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6159.

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