At least five area families have received an unexpected Christmas gift this year - strangers have paid off their layaway accounts at the University Avenue Kmart.
Kmart store manager Dan Hewitt wouldn't say exactly how much had been given, but said that one of the anonymous donors gave several hundred dollars. He said that money paid off the accounts of four families, and another donor paid off accounts for one or two people.
"We made sure it was Christmas gifts, and it was for kids. It was toys and kids clothing and things like that," he said. "I think it's great. It's hard when you've got to make payments to pay off Christmas."
He said when told about the donations, the families whose accounts were paid off were grateful and surprised.
"One started crying. One just couldn't believe it, they were just going on and on and on," he said.
The donations are part of a nationwide trend of people anonymously paying off layaway accounts with money reportedly being given at stores in Nebraska, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Montana.
Those anonymous donors weren't the only ones showing generosity at Kmart. A steady stream of shoppers dropped coins and folded bills into the red Salvation Army kettle outside the store Friday afternoon, as Cynthia Roberson, of Waterloo, rang the bell and wished them all a merry Christmas.
"It's a blessing. I've been there, not having things for my kids," she said when told about the donors. "God bless them."
She's at the kettle from 3 to 7:30 p.m., six days a week.
"It just makes me feel good," she said with a grin. "If they have it, let them put it in (the kettle), but if they don't, God bless them anyway."
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.