LAYTON -- A customer walked in to Kmart on Friday and asked if he could pay off a layaway.
The layaway wasn't his. It was that of a complete stranger.
"He wanted to make sure it was a layaway that had toys in it so we looked through our list and found one that not only had toys in it but would have been returned to the shelves if it hadn't been paid for (Friday)," said store manager Stuart Isbell.
The store called the customer and put them on the phone with the man wanting to pay for their items, Isbell said.
"I don't know what they said but you could tell they were very grateful," Isbell said. "There were a lot of customers standing around and they all thought it was pretty awesome. It looked like the kids might have gone without if it hadn't been for him."
Not only did the stranger pay for one layaway, he paid for two.
"A woman came up to the counter while he was there and she was telling the clerk she needed to return the items on her layaway list," Isbell said. "The same man told her he would go ahead and pay off her layaway as well."
Isbell wouldn't reveal the amount of the money the man spent on the two layaways, but he said it was a very generous donation.
"We've had a few people come into the store and ask if they can pay off a layaway for someone in time for Christmas," Isbell said. "We've been seeing it in other stores across the nation as well. It's pretty neat. It really warms our hearts."
At Kmart stores across the country, Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers' layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn't afford, especially toys and children's clothes set aside by impoverished parents.
Most of the donors have done their giving secretly.
An Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people this week. 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.
A store manager said the woman did it in memory of her recently deceased husband.
The benefactors generally ask to help families who are squirreling away items for young children. They often pay a portion of the balance, usually all but a few dollars or cents so the layaway order stays in the store's system.
The phenomenon seems to have begun in Michigan before spreading, Kmart executives said.
"It is honestly being driven by people wanting to do a good deed at this time of the year," said Salima Yala, Kmart's division vice president for layaway.
The good Samaritans seem to be visiting mainly Kmart stores, though a Wal-Mart spokesman said a few of his stores in Joplin, Mo., and Chicago have also seen some layaway accounts paid off.
Kmart representatives say they did nothing to instigate the secret Santas or spread word of the generosity. But it's happening as the company struggles to compete with chains such as Wal-Mart and Target.
Kmart may be the focus of layaway generosity, Yala said, because it is one of the few large discount stores that has offered layaway year-round for about four decades.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this story.