October 25, 2014

Elyria
Sunny
69°F
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Secret Santa pays off layaway tab for 23 Avon Walmart customers

AVON — Secret Santa took on new meaning Saturday at Walmart, where an anonymous benefactor paid about $8,800 in layaway bills for 23 customers.

“He said it was hard to pick one or two. I was like, whoa,” store manager Tammy Pistore said Sunday. “It was just a little miracle yesterday. It was really cool.”

The generosity is part of a nationwide trend in which anonymous Good Samaritans pay the bills of people who might not be able to afford them. The good deeds have been done at Kmarts in the Cincinnati area, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Montana and Nebraska, as well as Walmarts in Chicago and Joplin, Mo., The Associated Press reported Friday. The merchandise is usually Christmas toys or other Christmas gifts.

Pistore said the man, who paid for the merchandise with a credit card, told her he had read a newspaper account of the generosity and wanted to help customers who might not be able to afford the items they put down payments on. “He said, ‘I just felt I needed to do something.’ ”

In Saturday’s case at the Walmart at 35901 Chester Road, Pistore said a few of the customers, when called Friday by employees, said they were unable to pay for the items and were about to forfeit the 10 percent down payment and the $4 layaway fee. Purchases must be at least $50, and full payment was due midnight Saturday.

Pistore said Walmart stopped the layaway plan except for jewelry in 2005 but resurrected it for electronics and toys on Oct. 17 to help cash-strapped customers in the bad economy.

Pistore said some of the customers didn’t believe it when Walmart workers called them Saturday to say their gifts had been paid for, and some customers and employees — seven of the people whose gifts were paid for were Walmart workers — were moved to tears by the man’s generosity.

Pistore, a Walmart employee since 1993 and a manager at the Avon store for about 18 months, said Saturday was the first time she’d seen someone pay off other people’s layaway bills. Pistore said she recognized the middle-aged man as someone who’d previously visited the store.

Layaway merchandise paid for by the man included a variety of children’s toys and several boys’ bicycles as well as CDs, DVDs, iPods and televisions. Pistore said the impact of the deed hit her as she watched toys being rung up for children who might not have received them.

“Talking about it is going to make me cry,” she said. “That’s all I did yesterday.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.