“Secret Santas” have been popping up at layaway counters across the country. They simply pick up the Christmas tab for families, and the same is true right here in Bakersfield.
Tis' the season to give, shop and spend, but for some families, buying a bunch of gifts just doesn't add up. Many have to wait to pay for their items once they get the money.
And along came an angel.
"I came in here to be a part of the Angel program and pay off someone's layaway account," said Damien Ott, a Bakersfield resident shopping in Kmart.
He and his wife have three young children of their own, the youngest being 18 months old, but after they watched a news story about Kmart’s Layaway Angel program, they immediately want to join in.
He gave the store manager $100 and told him to deduct it from a person’s layaway account – one with a lot of toys on it. And just like that, the manager, Patrick Chirico, went to the back of the counter, and came out with several toys – a doll house and a Bouncing Colors Turtle, all on some family’s layaway list that Ott agreed to pay for.
"I really can't afford it, I’m just doing something good and hope it comes back around," he said.
It’s that spirit of giving that is sweeping a number of Kmart stores, in states such as Nebraska, Montana, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa and South Carolina. They all have reports of several people paying the layaway bills for total strangers.
"It's a great program, especially, in this season,” Chirico said. “A lot of needy families can take the help wherever they can get it.”
He said a couple of retired school teachers came in Kmart earlier this week and paid the layaway bill for five families. The Angel program contributions have ranged from $50 to $300 at the Bakersfield store.
“There are too many Layaway Angels to count,” he said.
He gives the recipients a card signed by their donor with their paid-for receipt attached.
"Hopefully, they're really shocked and really like it because I know I would,” Ott said.
If you would like to become a Layaway Angel, see any Kmart clerk for details.