Many shoppers have come to pay their layaway bills at retailers such as Kmart and have found they've already been paid off by strangers. (WRDW-TV / Dec. 21, 2011)
News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- It's the season of giving, and hundreds of Secret Santas out there are stepping up to the plate, surprising shoppers as they go to pay for their layaway purchases.
Khandis Koonce came to Kmart to pay for the rest of her son's Christmas gifts when she found out some surprising information.
"The lady came out of nowhere and was like, 'I'll pay it for you' and I was like, 'Are you serious?'" Koonce said. "My heart was beating so fast, 'cause like that's never happened to me before, like I'm always doing for others but that right there ... that was a blessing, really."
Koonce's Secret Santa wants to keep her identity a secret, but with tears running down her cheeks she told us she just felt compelled by the Lord to help someone.
"I think it's amazing, you know with the times it's hard, these years and people come together to help one another and I just think it's amazing, like I'm getting teary eyed just talking about it," Koonce said.
Dozens of strangers, many of them members of Wesley United Methodist Church, are giving forward this holiday season and paying layaway orders at stores around town.
"I think it's a big growing trend that's going around right now," said Kmart employee Lars Tolliver.
Jeff Gorelick, president of Ruben's Department Store in Augusta, said it's an inspiring thing to see.
"It really was a moving thing to see these people with no publicity, no names, no anything just coming in to help other people. It gives you faith we're still a great people," said Jeff Gorelick, president of Ruben's Department Store in Augusta.
And they say the reactions have been priceless.
"She had three pairs of shoes on layaway, they paid it out and she came in and cried on my nice sweater yesterday," says Gorelick.
And now Koonce is planning to pass on the love herself.
"And I think I'll do the same thing next year because I think that would only be right. I would just like to tell her thank you so much and I just hope that she has a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to her and her family," Koonce said.
All three Kmart stores in North Augusta and Augusta have seen Secret Santas this week. The Martinez store says they've seen about 50 strangers come in and help. It's so many that they're actually running low on layaway orders.
Wesley United Methodist Church in Evans says they first got the idea from a woman in Michigan. Their Random Acts of Christian Kindness program gave each member $20 to pass along to someone else.
Most stores, though, say people are digging into their own pockets and paying the amounts in full.