BLUE ASH, Ohio - Christmas may still be a week away, but the holiday spirit is apparently gaining steam in the Tri-State as more Kmart stores report unnamed strangers coming in and paying off layaway purchases for dozens of families in need.
Christmas miracles from these unsung "layaway angels," as some are calling them, were seen repeatedly this week at the Big Kmart store located at 4150 Hunt Road in Blue Ash.
You'd never know anything special was happening at the Kmart until you walk to the back of the store and see the line in the easily hidden layaway counter where a pair of workers feverishly work to retrieve layaway purchases for various families before Christmas.
Clerks and managers say this Christmas they are seeing something they've never seen before.
"The customer will actually get into a layaway line. They'll come up and say, 'I have X amount of dollars that I'm willing to spend' on the next couple of people that are behind them in line," said Assistant Manager Alison Beel.
Beel says she didn't believe the stories at first, until she started to see the "layaway angels" work for herself. Since Dec. 13, she says dozens of people started showing up at her store offering to help out unsuspecting customers in need.
"This past week has been awesome. We've had numerous people come in, 25 just (Saturday), paying on layaways. Just random layaways that aren't even theirs," Beel said. "They pay for customers in the store they don't even know."
9 News didn't see any of these angles during our almost two hours at the store Saturday night, but many of the people getting Christmas gifts at the layaway counter told us they were touched by the stories and wished it happened for them.
"Yeah, oh, yeah. That's great! It's good that they help the families that really need it," said Chad Eplen of Mason.
But for those Blue Ash Kmart customers who are lucky enough to get the "layaway angel" treatment, they've gotten new faith in Christmas and their neighbors.
"We have actually called people to let them know, when they come in to get their layaway, please don't be alarmed when we tell you that you only owe a penny or the balance is zero," Beel said. "We've had people crying on the phone. They are just amazed at people being so generous and thoughtful to people they don't even know."
One of the things some of the anonymous layaway donor are doing is asking to see what people have in layaway. When they see boxes full of childrens' toys or clothes, those are often the ones they decide to pay for to make sure families and their children get a good Christmas this year.
As of Monday evening, there was still plenty of Christmas merchandise on layaway at the Blue Ash Kmart. Beel says at least 15 more "layaway angels" have come in since Saturday, offering to pay as little as $50 to families in need, or as much as $200.
It was the Associated Press that first reported about the "layaway angels" at Kmarts in places like Omaha, Neb., Missoula, Mo. and Seattle, Wash. The spirit seen there over the last two weeks is apparently catching throughout the nation and the Tri-State.