Christmas came early for three people in West Michigan when a stranger picked up the tab on some presents.
It happened Monday night at the Big Kmart on the 4000 block of Plainfield Avenue in Plainfield Township. A woman, described only as "being in her 30s," walked up to the layaway desk, pushing a shopping cart full of toys she planned to donate.
"This lady came up randomly and said, 'Can I, you know, pay off some people's layaway?' " said Dannell Goddard. Goddard works at Kmart in the layaway department. She told 24 Hour News 8 that when she first heard the request, she was a bit confused.
"I was like, 'Well, are you trying to pick them up? 'Cause you can't pick them up if you don't have an ID,' " Goddard said. "And [the mystery woman] replied, 'Nope, I just want to help people.' "
The woman looked through several of the 800 or so layaway contract tickets at the store. She randomly picked and paid the bill on three of them. She paid about $500 between all three of them and left a $10 balance on each of the accounts.
The woman's only requirement was that there were toys in the layaway orders.
"It was really crazy the way she did it. She was so excited and so happy to do it," said Goddard. "She had a great heart, and I told her that I felt like she had a great heart, and she said she doesn't want to take appreciation for it. She just felt that she was blessed and she wanted to bless others."
One of the recipients of that kindness was Mary Chapin. She told 24 Hour News 8 the act of kindness "restored her faith in people."
Chapin had put about $200 worth of toys on layaway for her son, David, Monday afternoon. She said she hoped she'd be able to pay off the balance by the week before Christmas.
Then she got a call from Kmart that changed all that.
"They said that someone had paid $180 on my layaway and there was only $10 left," said Chapin. "I thought it was a joke."
Chapin wanted to say thank you, but the only clue to the woman's identity was a message on her receipt that read, "Happy Holiday from a friend."
"I thank her. It's the best gift that I ever received, and it's the gift of believing in people," said Chapin. "And believing that there's good out there, 'cause you don't always see that."
The entire layaway order was for 12-year-old David, who has autism. Chapin told 24 Hour News 8 she was so excited she gave her son one of those toys, a brand new LEGO set.
Chapin has her own name for her family's Secret Santa. She calls the woman "an angel" for her family. She said that angel gave her family a far bigger gift than the toys themselves.
"Even though we're all in the same boat, nobody's thinking about anyone else, it's every man for himself," said Chapin. To have somebody come along behind, and just do something that's totally unnecessary but so appreciated, it just really made a difference."
Postscript: The day after the story aired on 24 Hour News 8, another secret Santa went to the Plainfield Kmart and offered to pay off 13 more layaway bills — to the tune of about $2,000. It was the largest layaway payoff in the history of the store.