AUBURN, Maine — It feels like a Christmas story, but it’s not.
A terminally ill woman walked into Kmart last week and said she wanted to do something to help people. Specifically, she wanted to pay off layaway balances for people who were struggling to make their payments.
Within minutes, it was done. The mysterious woman paid off overdue layaway balances for 16 people, relieving financial burdens worth nearly $3,000.
With that behind her, the woman left the store. She didn’t leave her name; she didn’t stick around to wait for a thank-you.
“I wanted to cry,” Kmart Manager Joyce Beane said. “It was that powerful.”
The people who saw her said the woman appeared weak as she walked through the store. Several times, she had to stop to rest, leaning against shelves or whatever she could find.
“It takes something like this,” Beane said, “to make you think, ‘Oh, my word. If I were facing the end of my life, would I take time to reach out and help people?’”
Beane said she knew of one family in particular that had fallen on hard times. They had several items on layaway but it didn’t appear they’d be able to pay for them. Before long, those items would be returned to the shelves and the family would have to go without.
Instead, that family suddenly owned those items free and clear, no questions asked, no thanks necessary.
It feels like a Christmas story and in some ways, it is.
Rina Thibeault of Auburn was at Kmart on Friday to make a payment on her holiday layaway. As she was heading into the store, one of the layaway clerks called her on the phone.
“I’m thinking, I best hurry,” Thibeault said. “Since I’m late on my payment, they’re going to pull it.”
Not quite. The clerk was calling to deliver good news: Thibeault’s layaway was paid in full. All she had to do was pick up her stuff.
For Kmart, this wasn’t the first anonymous person to come in and wipe out layaway debt. Beane calls them “Layaway Angels,” and she’s experienced their altruism before.
Just before Christmas 2011, an anonymous donor walked into the Auburn Kmart and paid off all of the store’s delinquent layaways — items that would soon have to be returned to the shelves because people had stopped paying toward their bills, typically because they could no longer afford it.
The idea that one person would do so much for so many strangers — and do it anonymously — still wows Beane.
“There are good people in the world,” she said. “It’s nice to run into them every now and then.”