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Secret Santas pay off store layaways
Anonymous donors help families in need afford Christmas gifts
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It's the season for giving, and that's what many are doing.

An anonymous local construction company owner provided an early Christmas gift this week to several random people at Walmart on Mundy Mill Road in Oakwood.

Tiffany Miller was in the store Thursday afternoon when the anonymous man requested to pay the layaway accounts of random people.

"The guy came in and said that he would like to pay off some people's layaways because he had been so fortunate this year and had been able to work all year long and he wanted to return the favor," Miller said.

He returned the favor to five different people by paying off their layaways, Miller said.

Walmart employee Angel Ellingham was one of the five who benefited from the man's random act of kindness. She said her account totaled about $70, all of which was paid off.

"I was confused at first," she said. "They said, ‘He's trying to give the gift of paying off some layaways, and yours is one he picked to pay off.'"

Still in a state of confusion, Ellingham began crying and hugged the man.

After she walked away to gain her composure, the man was gone when she returned.

"I never got to get his name or talk to him or anything," Ellingham said. "I'm just really grateful and really thankful."

Just the day before, Ellingham posted on Facebook about a co-worker who was struggling to provide Christmas presents for her kids. She was urging others to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

"I said ‘just be someone's Secret Santa this year and just help somebody out,' and then I came into work and it happened to me,"

Ellingham said.

But the giving doesn't end there. Another anonymous man came into the same store Friday and paid for an additional three layaway accounts.

That same act of kindness has been occurring at stores across the country. People are taking the duties of Santa into their own hands and paying off layaway accounts for strangers and buying Christmas gifts for other families in need, especially toys and children's clothes.

"We've been seeing this all over the country. It's happening from the east coast to the west coast," Walmart spokeswoman Kayla Whaling said.

Paying layaway accounts hasn't been the only random acts of kindness. Whaling said people have been offering to pay for other people in checkout lines or handing out gift cards.

"I think it's just great to see people wanting to give back in their community," she said.

Other chains have had similar situations.

"It is honestly being driven by people wanting to do a good deed at this time of the year," said Salima Yala, Kmart's division vice president for layaway.

Store representatives say they have done nothing to instigate the anonymous gift givers or spread word of the acts of kindness. The occurrences are happening as companies struggle to compete with chains like Walmart and Target.

Kmart seems to be a focus of the layaway generosity, Yala said, because it is one of the few large discount stores that has offered layaway year-round for about four decades. Through the program, customers can make purchases but let the store hold onto their merchandise as they pay it off slowly over several weeks.

The generosity seems to be a spreading trend.

"People hear about it and they want to do it as well," Whaling said. "These people are anonymous. They're not asking for recognition. It's neighbors helping neighbors and I think that's really the focus."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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