'Layaway angel' stops in Central Ky., pays off balances at Kmart and Wal-Mart

Account balances paid at Lexington Kmart

ctruman@herald-leader.comDecember 22, 2011 

The "layaway angel" has been in Central Kentucky.

Kelsey Smith says she's the latest beneficiary of this Christmas' biggest gift trend — an anonymous layaway payoff — that has spread like a charitable wildfire among Kmarts and some Wal-Marts.

For Smith and her family, the generosity could not have come at a better time. Her year-old daughter, Addison, was in the hospital earlier this year with pneumonia, and Smith, who works in a dental office, said she and fiancé James Chapman have been struggling to pay medical bills.

Both of them work, and Chapman is about to finish school at Spencerian College, where he studies biomedical engineering.

Smith had hoped to finish paying for her Christmas items and take home some books, dolls, Minnie Mouse items and a stroller for Addison by Friday. The total cost of the items was about $200.

Smith initially was certain that her aunt, Terry Aldridge of Nicholasville, had paid off all but a penny on the account.

"They told me a Secret Santa had paid it, and I could come and get my layaway out," she said. "I was beside myself. ... I was going to pick it up Friday, before Christmas, when I got paid."

Smith's isn't the only layaway account to be paid. June Ridenour, a manager at the Lexington Kmart on Nicholasville Road, said 20 to 30 accounts had been paid off since late last week. (An article about the nationwide trend appeared in Friday's Herald-Leader.)

The "layaway angels," as they have been popularly dubbed, paid off one to 12 layaway balances each in Lexington, Ridenour said.

"The first day it was an odd thing happening," she said.

The layaway payoff escalated from there.

The "layaway angel" donations are described as both viral and spontaneous by Kmart's parent company, Sears Holdings. Some commenters on Internet sites that have reported the layaway payoffs have expressed skepticism about the authenticity of the kindness, but Shannelle Armstrong, a spokesman for Sears Holdings, said they are legitimate.

"The only role we play is facilitating the transaction," she said. "What we find in retail is that there are a lot of acts of generosity that people do that are anonymous. ... People will be way more helpful when there's nobody around with those acts. We just happen to be the beneficiary of it."

She said Kmarts in Louisville, Paintsville, Frankfort, Owensboro and Madisonville also have reported donations by "layaway angels." In Baltimore, a donation of $20,000 was reported, Armstrong said.

Reach Cheryl Truman at (859) 231-3202 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3202.

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