The Layaway Angels

Sometimes, it takes just a single flicker of light in this often dark world of ours to instill in me great hope for our species. No good deed is too small or insignificant: the world may have its vast problems, often too big and complex to tackle within our life times. But what matters is that we do what we can to make life better for our fellow humans, who often share the same fears, concerns, and desires that we do.

Consider the recent trend in so-called “layaway angels,” individuals who anonymously pay off the layaway accounts of complete strangers. First noticed a couple of weeks ago in a single store in Michigan, it seems to be picking up throughout the country, perhaps as an example of the pay-if-forward approach to altruism that has been observed before.

A 10-year-old boy walked into a Kmart store in San Mateo on Wednesday afternoon, placed $20 on the counter and said he wanted to pay down a stranger’s layaway account.

Sameera Chatfield, the supervisor who helped the young “layaway angel,” an anonymous shopper who pays off layaways for strangers — a recent trend occurring at Kmart stores nationwide — said the boy walked in with his mom and specifically requested an account that included toys for boys.

“It was perfect,” she said. “I wish he had stayed around for a few minutes, because the people whose account he paid for came in.”

She said the family smiled when she told them that the “angel” who paid down their account was a 10-year-old boy.

The boy is one of several such do-gooders Chatfield has helped since Friday, when people started coming in and offering to pay down layaways.

“It has been absolutely fabulous,” Chatfield said. “It makes me want to go out and do something for someone else.”

The contagious good will, which has spread to Kmart stores around the country, appears to have its roots at a store in Michigan, where an anonymous woman reportedly paid about $500 toward the layaway accounts of strangers earlier this month.

The “angels” vary in age and ethnicity, but most request to remain anonymous and that their money go toward paying off accounts that include toys or children’s clothes. On Friday morning, a man in his 30s walked into a Kmart in Hayward with $10,000 in cash.

“He came in and said, ‘I heard what’s going on in other states.’ I’d like to do it,” said John Pawlik, 52, a manager at the Hayward Kmart. He said the man paid $9,800 toward layaway accounts and donated the remaining $200 to the Salvation Army.

Pawlik said in another instance, a couple came in and said they wanted to pay off an account because they don’t have children of their own.

“I think it’s great,” Pawlik said. “It puts your faith back in how you feel about people.”

Michelle Caldwell, 30, said that in the 10 years she has worked at the Kmart in San Leandro, she has not seen anything like this. Since Sunday, Caldwell said she has helped about five people who offered to pay down layaways.

“It’s just really touching,” she said. “If I had the money, I would be doing it myself too.”

John Garcia, a 44-year-old assistant manager at the Kmart in Redwood City, said that when sales associates inform the lucky customers that an anonymous person has paid down their accounts, most of the time their reaction is tearful.

“It’s almost like they’re in shock,” he said. “Like they’ve won the lottery. And in those instances, they have.”

Garcia said the trend is improving morale among sales associates and benefiting Bay Area families who are in need at this time of year.

“I’ve seen lots of demonstrations of goodwill towards people, but never one that gained such momentum,” he said. “It’s something that’s very special that’s happening.”

I’ll say, and that should never been underestimated. For all the confirmation bias we have in focusing mostly on the negative and reprehensible side of our nature – which is sadly quite persistent across our species – we should never overlook our continued propensity to love and be concerned towards one another. We could argue about the amount of good that transpires throughout the world versus all the evil, but it doesn’t remove the magnificence of any act of compassion, no matter how seemingly small or ephemeral. If anything, it’s made even more beautiful.

Now imagine if this sort of thing was to keep catching on, and everyone took it upon themselves to care about each other, if only for a moment. It’s a great thought to entertain, whatever your thoughts on the feasibility.

 

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