'Layaway angels' visit
Anonymous donors pay off accounts at Everett Kmart
Sarah Weiser / The Herald
Carmela Mongold of Everett leaves the layaway section of Kmart on Wednesday after picking up Christmas gifts for her family that were paid for by a generous stranger. About $400 was anonymously donated for her family's gifts.
Sarah Weiser / The Herald
Carmela Mongold of Everett reacts as she picks up the Christmas gifts she had placed on layaway at Kmart in Everett of Wednesday. "Layaway angels" have been paying off balances at Kmarts, and Mongold, who has three young boys, was overwhelmed by the kindness of the gesture.
The mother of three young boys found out this week that anonymous donors almost entirely paid off her three delinquent Kmart layaway accounts, filled with toys for Christmas.
She saved the voicemail left on her phone from the store on Evergreen Way.
"I replayed it to make sure I heard it right," she said.
Mongold, 27, saw a news story last week about anonymous secret Santas, also dubbed "Layaway Angels," who have paid off layaway accounts in Kmarts nationwide.
She didn't believe it could to happen to her until she got called, twice. At first, a donor paid for one of her accounts. Then someone later paid for two more. About $400 was anonymously donated for her family's Christmas gifts.
Mongold cried when she learned she could take home all the toys for her boys, ages 3, 7 and 9.
"I feel like I had just won the biggest lottery in the world," she said.
Shoppers at Kmart stores who use the layaway program agree to follow an eight- or 12-week contract to make payments on store items. The stores hold the items until accounts are completely paid off.
At least 50 layaways have been paid for by anonymous shoppers at the Evergreen Way store, said manager Steve Moore. Most of the people who have paid off the layaway accounts have chosen to remain anonymous.
"What they really are looking for are layaways that have kids' toys, and are behind," he said.
Some of the "layaway angels" sign cheerful holiday messages on the receipts. One person walked into the store last week and paid at least 20 accounts, Moore added.
So is Kmart doing this itself? Are its employees the "layaway angels"?
Company officials say no.
According to Kmart, the first reported "layaway angel" acted earlier this month in Michigan. Since that time, the company has asked store managers to send emails to the corporation's Illinois headquarters telling how much people are donating and what items are being paid for on layaway lists. Stores nationwide by Thursday had reported donations totaling $420,000 from more than 1,000 anonymous donors.
Moore believes media attention to reported cases of the "layaway angels" have helped to spread the trend.
"I think there's always been some level of this in different years, but this year it came to the forefront," Moore said. "I've seen a dozen people who have come in and made these payments. They feel as good about doing this as the people who are receiving it feel."
Across town at the Toys R Us on Everett Mall Way, store supervisor Jessica Berg said at least one customer came into her store to put $200 toward delinquent layaway accounts. But he was too late. The store's deadline to pay off those accounts was Dec. 16, so the layaways had all been canceled.
The man instead donated money to the Toys for Tots collection program at the store, Berg said.
For Mongold, the donations came at a great time.
Mongold's mother died in October and her father-in-law died a month later. During that time, her family moved from Kelso to Everett and fell behind on their bills. She and her husband, Nathan, quickly realized that rent, food and day care costs were are all higher than in Kelso. Both started new jobs to support their family.
The couple last week spent three hours trying to decide what they could take off of their layaway lists. Then they got the call about the donations. Standing at the Kmart layaway counter, she asked Moore what he knew about people who have paid layaways.
"They look like regular people, right?" Mongold said. "They don't have wings?"
Mongold isn't sure she'll tell her kids about their "layaway angels" this Christmas. She plans to keep the receipts and either frame them or put them in a scrapbook. She hopes next year her family can pay off someone else's layaway.
Above all, Mongold would like those who paid for her sons' Christmas gifts to know that her family is thankful.
"My theory is whoever is doing this has got to be somebody with faith," she said. "These people need to know how much it is appreciated."
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; email@example.com.
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