The spirit of giving is in full swing this season as the act of paying off layaway plans for strangers has gone from novelty to trend.
The most recent display of generosity was in the Dallas suburb of Granbury, Texas, when a secret Santa walked into the local Walmart and paid off the store's entire list of layaway accounts.
"It's awesome," Craig Rowland, the store's manager, told ABCNews.com today. "It's very touching to our associates and to the people in the community."
The anonymous benefactor paid a total of $2,000 towards 21 separate accounts on Sunday night, Rowland said. "It paid off every single one of our customers' layaways."
Store layaway programs are popular during the holidays when customers are allowed to reserve merchandise and pay it off over time. For millions of low-income Americans with little or no credit, it's the only way to purchase goods during the holidays.
The good deed created a buzz inside the store, Rowland said. "As soon as she paid the layaways off, our associates back in layaway were able to call the customers and let them know, 'Hey, your layaway has been paid for by a Good Samaritan, a secret Santa. That was pretty rewarding for them to be able to do that," he said.
"I thought it was a joke at first," Brittany Browning told local ABC affiliate WFAA. The single mother said her account of about $125 was paid for by the generous stranger. "And then thought it was just amazing that someone would do that."
Rowland noted that while the act was generous, it is not an anomaly in this small community of about 8,300 people that suffered through a devastating tornado in May.
"Actually, it's not the only one this year," Rowland said, noting there were also "several" similar acts of kindness last year. "It's a pretty common occurrence but not to that extent - $2,000 is definitely the largest that we've had."
And Granbury, Texas, isn't alone in its spirit of giving.
On Dec. 7 at a Walmart in The Villages, Fla., Greg Parady laid out $21,000 of his own money to pay down many of the store's layaway accounts after overhearing a woman telling someone she didn't think she could afford to collect the items on her account, as ABC News reported today.
One young lady who had come in to make a payment got an early Christmas present from Parady.
"Her tab came up … and I said 'Let me take care of that' to the guy that was ringing her up, so he brought it over and she just started crying," Parady recalled. "And then I started crying and then the ladies behind the desk started crying and then my partner Cindy started crying. So I said, you know, 'Merry Christmas.'"
Rowland, the manager at the Walmart in Granbury, suggested that the satisfaction of giving may be contagious. One woman who learned of the secret Santa's largesse said she wanted to help others, he said.
"She's going to take what she thought was her balance and pay it forward to another layaway," he said, and then with a giggle, added: "Though, obviously we don't have any more layaways right now."
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- Craig Rowland