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Robyn Ayres shed tears of joy at a New Hampshire Wal-Mart as she discovered that just over half of her layaway bill had been paid by a stranger.
It was a generous gesture that saved Christmas this year for her struggling family and restored their faith in the goodness of people.
Without the anonymous $150 payment, Ayres likely would not have had enough money to bring home the toys for her sons, 11-year-old Griffin and 2-year-old Ryder.
“We call her our Christmas angel,” Ayres, 43, who lives in Raymond, near Manchester, told TODAY.com. “We believe it was a Christmas miracle for us. Things have been going wrong right and left."
Ayres and her husband, John, a construction foreman, have had a rough few years.
Their house went into foreclosure and also needed an expensive new roof and furnace. Their oven broke around Thanksgiving, so they are renting one, and they had to put their dog down a month ago.
“Times have been really tough,” said Ayres, who works part-time at a variety market. “We’ve been having a lot of financial setbacks and living paycheck to paycheck, like most people in this country.”
“Somebody doing a gesture like they did is a huge thing for us,” she added. “Every little thing matters.”
Without credit cards, the couple put about $330 worth of toys on layaway at Wal-Mart in Epping just after Thanksgiving, leaving a $50 down payment.
When they went back on Saturday to make another dent in their bill before the Dec. 14 deadline, a cashier told them their balance was only around $130. A woman made a $150 payment on the day they first shopped.
A note taped to the train set for their young son left them in awe.
“I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas,” it read. “The lord is always with you! Have a blessed Holiday Season!
That’s when the waterworks began. “I started crying from the moment I saw it,” Ayres said, choking up again as she spoke.
She believes the woman overheard Ayres and her husband talking about how happy they were that the store offered the layaway service, and the difficulties they were having.
Wal-Mart did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Ayres feared she would not have had the money to pick the gifts up in time, and that they would have been sent back to the store shelves.
Instead, on Christmas there will be Xbox games for Griffin and Legos for Ryder. Ayres is beyond thankful.
“It made my kids’ Christmas, and I want to thank her for restoring our faith in people,” Ayres said, noting all of the bad news these days.
“It’s a big, big deal to us. It might not be that much to a lot of people, but that right there, it’s groceries for my family.
“She made us not worry about giving our kids a good Christmas,” she added, “and it took a lot of stress off our shoulders during a pretty hard time.”
TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter: @lisaflam