By ANGIE CARNATHAN
In case anyone doubts the spirit of giving is truly in the air this Christmas, just ask Pam Wilson.
Wilson is an employee of the Starkville Walmart and works in the layaway department. Saturday, Wilson said something happened for the first time in all of her years working for the local retailer.
“Saturday morning, a gentleman came in and asked me if I was over layaway, and I said yes,” Wilson said. “He then told me he had something unusual that he needed my help with.”
The man then told Wilson he wanted to anonymously pay off some layaway accounts. Wilson said she was shocked, but she was glad to help him.
“He told me he wanted me to look through the accounts and find ones where there were a lot of toys or bikes, that sort of thing,” Wilson said. “He said he wanted to pay off accounts where it looked like the family had a lot of children and a high balance that might indicate they may not be able to pay the entire amount off.”
Wilson said she was overwhelmed at the man’s generosity.
“I just said, ‘Wow, what a blessing,’” Wilson said.
Wilson then went through the list, looking for accounts that were predominately or solely made up of toys.
“The man never even asked me the amounts; he just paid them off,” Wilson said. “He ended up paying off four entire accounts down to where there was just a 1 cent balance, so that they stayed in our system. I’d say he probably paid off over $1,000 worth of toys and bikes that day.”
Wilson made sure to check his identification against his debit card to be positive the payments were legitimate. She then asked if the man would like to be there when she called the families or, at the very least, let them know who had been kind enough to pay the balances.
“He told me under no circumstances did he want to be identified in any way,” Wilson said. “He just told me to call the families after he left and just let them know their balances were down to a penny. He didn’t want any recognition.”
Wilson said her store manager started calling the people and the reactions were much as one would expect.
“One guy that we called, he didn’t believe us at first,” Wilson said. “He and his wife came up here, and they were just so incredibly touched and appreciative.”
Wilson said another woman went into hysterics when she got the phone call.
“She came in, and it turned out she had been in a really bad car wreck and had an extreme amount of medical bills that were piling up and didn’t expect to be able to pay the balance on the layaway, so she was just ecstatic,” Wilson said. “I know that man made Christmas possible for some families that day.”
Wilson said the staff was so inspired by the man’s selfless gesture that employees decided to take the money they usually spend on each other at Christmas and put it all together and buy toys for some families in need. Wilson said they called around to some local churches to get the names.
“We were all just so touched,” Wilson said. “I’ve worked here for years and I’ve never seen anything like it. It made an impact on all of us.”
According to a recent AP story, a trend has been noticed this year at stores across the country. In one account, a young father in Indianapolis, Ind., stood in line at the Kmart layaway counter, wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots. With him were three small children.
He asked to pay something on his bill because he knew he wouldn’t be able to afford it all before Christmas. Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.
“She told him, ‘No, I’m paying for it,’” Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis said. “He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn’t, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears.”
Before she left the store Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people. On the way out, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.
“She was doing it in the memory of her husband who had just died, and she said she wasn’t going to be able to spend it and wanted to make people happy with it,” Deppe said. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to “remember Ben,” an apparent reference to her husband.
Deppe, who said she’s worked in retail for 40 years, had never seen anything like it.
“It was like an angel fell out of the sky and appeared in our store,” she said.