'Angels' or 'Secret Santas' are Donating Big to Pay Off Store Customers' Layaway Balances

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Stacey Heyward hugs Lee Karchawer, founder of “Pay Away The Layaway.” Photo: Brandon Goodwin, TODAY.

The season of giving is more than a catch-phrase to the so-called “layaway angels” or “secret Santas” across the nation who are donating thousands of dollars at a time to pay off people’s layaway balances.
Those layaways are usually composed of holiday gifts put aside by low-income consumers.
The social phenomenon emerged in the wake of the financial crisis and Great Recession at the same that layaway services returned as an option for shoppers at many of the nation’s big retail chains.
This year is turning out to be one of the biggest yet for donations by “layaway angels.”  Toys “R” Us reported that it had two Massachusetts stores receive gifts of about $20,000 each from anonymous donors to pay down the balances of their layaways.

Someone covered $50,000 worth of layaway accounts at a central Pennsylvania Walmart on Monday. Manager Steve Myers said the benefactor visitied a Walmart in Mechanicsburg before noon with a cashier’s check that covered the balances on about 100 accounts. Monday was the deadline to pay off layaways.
A charity devoted to helping pay down layaway accounts for children’s gifts said donations may reach double last year’s amounts.
Walmart was one of the big retailers that brought back its layaway program in 2011 after putting it on hiatus in 2006, just before the crisis hit. With many lower-income families still struggling, these Secret Santas are providing a service that lives up to the holiday spirit of giving.
“All the donations are going directly to helping kids during the holidays,” Lee Karchawer, who founded the charity Pay Away the Layaway in 2011, told CBS News. “We typically try to select stores that are in neighborhoods that skew in lower household income, where families may be struggling to make their last payment.”
The charity crowdsources the giving by accepting smaller donations, which are then pooled. His organization then goes into stores and pays off the layaway accounts for parents or grandparents who are trying to buy toys and gifts for children.

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