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Secret Santas hit Detroit Lakes Kmart, layaways paid off

They've been hitting Kmarts across the country, and now they've struck Detroit Lakes, too.

They're secret Santas, and they've been randomly paying off people's layaway accounts.

The first incident occurred a week ago Friday in Detroit Lakes.

"We had a gentleman come in and pay off three people's accounts," said Detroit Lakes Kmart Store Manager Kevin Johnson, who said the man dished out about $550.

He also reportedly bought wrapping paper, bows and candy canes to leave for the family.

And while Johnson says the man did not want to know the names of the people whose accounts he was paying off, he did want one thing.

"He wanted to remain anonymous," said Johnson, "none of them want publicity for this -- they don't care about that."

He says "they" because it happened again on Monday -- this time it was a woman.

"She didn't have enough to pay off a whole account, but she put $50 down on a $100 account," said Kmart Assistant Manager Laurie Ibister.

The third incident happened again on Tuesday when another woman came in saying she'd like to be a secret Santa.

"She just wanted us to pick a layaway at random," said Ibister, "and that one was like $90."

But it'll do no good to run out and put expensive jewelry on layaway in the hopes of getting lucky, as Kmart employees say the secret Santas are targeting accounts with toys and children's clothes.

"And we're not talking like Xbox games or things like that -- just toys," said Johnson, who has gotten the privilege of calling the lucky recipients.

"The first person I called just broke down and cried," said Johnson. The woman told him that not only was it her birthday that day, but she had been going through a rough time lately.

The second person he called wasn't quite a believer at first.

"I think they thought it was a prank call, because when I told them that a layaway angel had came in and paid off their layaway, there was just silence," said Johnson, who says the couple came in two days later for their layaway.

"And when they came in they were just beaming from ear to ear because it had had time to sink in," said Ibister, "and they just kept saying, 'This is so cool; this is so cool.'"

Johnson says he figures the third recipient also believes it's a prank or scam because they still haven't come in to claim their paid-off items.

The Detroit Lakes Kmart isn't alone in seeing this display of random Christmas spirit.

The same thing has happened in several other states including Montana, Iowa and Colorado.

They've also struck Kmarts in Fargo with $2,400 worth of payoffs and Grand Forks where at least 10 accounts have been paid in full.

"In Grand Forks they had two people standing in line in the layaway who didn't know each other," said Johnson, "the one guy said he was there to be a layaway angel, and sure enough, so was the guy standing next to him -- and they didn't even know each other."

Johnson says the pure, giving, genuine nature of these people not only make a difference to those whose accounts they pay, but to everybody who hears the story.

"It just changes your day -- makes you feel amazing," said Johnson. "It's a stressful time of the year, and that just relieves all the stress."

Johnson says the stories of giving have lifted the spirits of Kmart employees too.

"When I tell them what's happened, the looks on their faces ... it's just so great," said Johnson, who says he does know the names of two of the Detroit Lakes secret Santas, but he's sworn to secrecy.

"I can't say -- if my life depended on it I couldn't cough up some names," Johnson laughed, adding that the first gentleman didn't even want store employees knowing what he'd done, until they convinced him to share his story.

"And he said, 'OK, if it would inspire other people to do things like this, go for it.'"