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In acts of holiday generosity, anonymous benefactors around the country have been going to  retailers and paying off the balances for customers who had items on layaway.

At a Walmart in Mechanicsburg, one man recently paid $50,000 to retire the layaway balances for 100 customers, and in Lancaster County, “layaway angels” have shown up  at Kmart, Walmart and Toys R Us stores.

Typically the patrons take care of accounts with toys or children’s clothing that have been reserved and are being paid off by customers in installments.

One beneficiary was Melissa Howe who had $200 left to pay on the clothes and toys she had set aside for her four children at the Kmart in Columbia.

Howe said she got a call Friday from the store saying her layaway balance had been taken care of and she could come pick up the items.

Howe she the unexpected gift came at the end of a “very difficult year” which included a time when she was homeless.

“It was very generous, very kind of them. It really got me into more of a Christmas spirit,” Howe said.

Howe said the items included clothing as well as a Lego set for her two-year-old and a computer tablet — “one of the cheap ones” — for her eight-year-old daughter.

The 31-year-old said she had been determined to provide a good Christmas to her children but is glad someone made things a little easier.

“I would have been able to pay it in time —it would have left me broke — but I would have paid it in time, as long as my kids had stuff for Christmas,” Howe said.

Sharon Snader, manager of the Kmart in Columbia, said Howe’s layaway  was one of four that was taken care off by two separate people who paid $800 to retire the balances.

Snader said store employees recommended layaway orders like Howe’s that included children’s toys and clothes and then she herself helped break the news to customers.

“It made me feel good to be able to call them and tell them,” Snader said.  “Their reaction was shock and the one young lady was crying.”

A Kmart spokesman said the company sees an increase in layaway angels during the holiday season but doesn’t track the numbers or amounts paid off.

A store manager at the Kmart along Fruitville Pike in Manheim Township said two “layaway angels” recently spent $1,100 to pay off the layaway balances for five customers.

The store typically sees a couple such “layaway angels” every year and is careful to guide benefactors toward customers who have children’s items on hold and have been making some payments on them, the store manager said.

A manager at the Toys R Us along Harrisburg Pike in Lancaster confirmed that there have been some “layaway angels” at the store, but declined to discuss details.

Sharon Pauley, manager of the Walmart along Fruitville Pike in Manheim Township, said a husband and wife came into the store last week and paid off the layaway balance for some 15 to 20 customers.

Pauley said since the Walmart “layaway angels” wanted to remain anonymous, she wouldn't say how much they paid, but added that that they are from the area and were believed to have done the same thing at the store last year.

Pauley said some customers found out about the acts of kindness when they showed up at the store, while others were called and told their balance was now at zero.

“Just their reactions when they found out that somebody paid for them was priceless,” Pauley said.

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