Layaway has been used for years by families who hope to eventually bring home toys and new clothes for their children, but this Christmas season more than ever — especially here in Brandon — they are getting help from unusual places.
"Layaway angels" are popping up all over the country, with hundreds of anonymous donors visiting Kmart stores to pay off the layaway balances for families in need. In Brandon, the trend was seen last year, but 2011 has brought a surprising number of angels to the local layaway counter.
"There have been a remarkable number of layaway angels this year," said store manager Jerry Orellano. "They do it completely anonymously; they don't want the people to know who is helping them. We've been happy to help several families this holiday season."
Orellano doesn't have an explanation for the increase in angels in 2011, but he said he has been blown away by the number of people who are paying off layaway accounts on behalf of others, usually for toys and children's items. Orellano didn't have specific totals available Monday.
"It didn't take us by surprise that some people wanted to do it because it's been done in the past, but people just came in back-to-back this year," he said. "People are giving whatever they can to help out as many families as they can."
The trend is not something that Kmart is marketing or intended on for its layaway program, a company spokesperson said, but the stores have received more than $100,000 worth of donations to date around the country for layaway accounts, and the number keeps rising. Similar donations have been reported at some Wal-Mart stores, too, the Huffington Post reports.
Orellano said that a fair amount of Brandon customers use the layaway program, and he believes that the number of angels shows just how much people in the community care about local children.
"People are looking for layaway accounts that have children's items in particular so that they can make Christmas better for kids," Orellano said. "It really has been amazing, and you can't understand how grateful these people who receive this help are."