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Secret Santas pay for items on layaway at stores around Western Pennsylvania

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 9:29 p.m.

Santa may have made early visits to a few stores in the area this year when anonymous donors plunked down hundreds of dollars to pay for the layaway items of strangers.

“It shows the region is full of people with good intentions and great hearts,” said Marcy Park, Wal-Mart district manager for the area. “It has happened every year, but it seems like I'm hearing more of it this year.”

Park said Secret Santas have donated money to pay for items on layaway at Wal-Mart stores in Robinson, Irwin, North Versailles, Mt. Pleasant and in Waterworks Mall on Freeport Road in Pittsburgh. She said customers come in, find a manager and say they want to be a Secret Santa for a layaway. They all choose to remain anonymous and usually the donations are about $200. Wal-Mart selects the recipients randomly.

Park said she witnessed a recipient's reaction when store employees told the person that a stranger had paid off the layaway balance.

“They were all ecstatic. The person said, ‘I want to thank someone. You have no idea what this does for our Christmas,' ” Park said.

Wal-Mart isn't the only store where anonymous donors chip in to help out. Stacey Wade, store manager at Kmart in West View, said four layaway angels came in on Tuesday to donate money. About 90 percent of the donors want their money to help children.

“It's been every day for the last three weeks,” Wade said. “They usually ask to pick a layaway with children's toys or clothes. One couple wanted to put down $500. We had a lot with high-dollar amounts this year.”

Nationally, Kmart says layaway angels have donated more than $1.5 million since 2011.

“When we call the (recipients) to tell them, generally they cry,” Wade said. “They say, ‘Excuse me?' and then we tell them again and they say, ‘Oh my God.' ”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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