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Strangers pay off layaway bills at Grand Rapids area Kmart store

The layaway bills included plenty of Christmas presents, including kids toys and clothing.
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The layaway bills included plenty of Christmas presents, including kids toys and clothing.

Strangers have paid off more than 30 layaway bills at a Kmart near Grand Rapids in the last week.

Dan Veenstra has been working there for more than 20 years and says he’s never seen anything like it.  “In the past we’ve had people come in that want to pay on somebody’s layaway - it’s usually a friend or neighbor or a family member. But it’s never been strangers like this,” Veenstra said.

It started last week when a woman paid off three strangers’ layaway bills. She also bought $300 worth in toys to donate to Toys for Tots. The next day a man who saw the story on TV came in and paid off $2,000 worth of layaway bills.

“He wanted to remain anonymous too but he contacted another TV station and kind of put out a challenge,” Veenstra said, “He said ‘if more people did this it would be great.’ And from then on we’ve had people come in almost daily wanting to pay off strangers’ layaways.”

Veenstra says they’ve had more than 30 layaway bills paid off in less than a week. Most people have asked to pay off layaway with kid’s clothes or toys. Others have paid layaway in danger of going back on the shelves because of a late payment.

Veenstra says shoppers who use layaway usually can’t get a credit card or are worried about high interest rates.

The strangers have mostly remained anonymous. But their kindness is sparking copycats at several Kmart stores across the country.

Divisional vice president of layaway for Sears and Kmart Salima Yala declined to say how many customers use layaway or how much money they spend. But she says layaway contracts have nearly doubled from 2008 to the end of 2010.

She says there are sporadic reports of anonymous payoffs but not this many at one store.

“To me its proof that there’s still good people out there who think of helping others,” Yala said.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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