It just might be Gary Kennedy's favorite part of the Christmas season.
"It actually makes me cry," said Kennedy, store manager for on Beaver Grade Road. "I get to make another call in about five minutes."
Kennedy said "Kmart angels"—anonymous donors who have been paying off Kmart layaway orders for strangers this Christmas season —have worked their magic on six families who patronize his store.
Anonymous benefactors have been dropping into Kmart locations from California to Maryland and paying the remaining layaway balance of families chosen at random. The generous trend has extended to Moon Township, Kennedy said.
When a donor comes into the store, staff members choose families who are deliquent on their balances or who have purchased items for children, he said.
"We'll go through the list and see if anyone is delinquent and select those first," Kennedy said. "Those might be the people who are having a hard time paying their bills around Christmas."
Kennedy said he's the one who telephones the families to tell them that an anonymous donor, their very own Kmart angel, has paid for their Christmas gifts.
"They can get very emotional," Kennedy said. "We had one woman who just became a grandmother and wasn't sure how she was going to pay for everything this Christmas. We called and told her that her layaway was paid, and she started to cry."
Dave Gable, store manager for on Marketplace Boulevard, said Kmart angels have helped his store's customers, too. Since Friday eight donors have walked into the store to pay the layaway orders of others.
"The people are very happy when you tell them; they get emotional," said Gable, who said the layaway order payoffs in his store have ranged from $90 to $280 per order.
This new brand of secret Santas has reached out to families in Ross Township, too: Store managers for the estimate that layaway angels have put more than $1,200 toward the bills of strangers this Christmas season.
Kennedy said on Monday evening a young couple walked into his Beaver Grade Road store and inquired about paying off a stranger's layaway balance.
"And they were so enthusiastic, they were giddy," he said. "It means a lot to me. It means that there's still some good out there. No matter what the economy is doing."