An inconspicuous man has gone to a South Toledo Kmart at least six times the last six days with hundreds of dollars in his pocket and left each time empty-handed.
He's not alone.
In the week leading up to Christmas, a flood of people have flocked to that store and others to either contribute toward layaway accounts or to pay off balances.
Tim Kubera, manager of the store on Reynolds Road, knows who the man (dubbed the local Kmart Secret Santa) is, but he's not saying.
"Like most people, he has wanted to remain anonymous," Mr. Kubera said. "It has really been a great thing. It started off slow a week ago Friday, when a few people came in and wanted to participate and it just took off. … What we looked for were accounts that had kid toys and clothes and were behind in their payments."
The trend is not new, but seemed to explode this year, especially at Kmart stores, but also Walmarts, which both have layaway programs.
Mr. Kubera said people there would pay off the entire balance except for a single penny, then he would call the customer.
"One lady's husband was just laid off, and she didn't know what she was going to do for Christmas," he said.
"We had another customer who was crying and didn't know what they would do."
Some people have paid off four or five layaway accounts, he said. About 55 people have gone into the store recently to donate to complete strangers.
"One guy has paid off about five that were up to $600," Mr. Kubera said. "And he said, 'if you have any others give me a call.' "
Similar Secret Santas were reported at the Walmart store on Navarre Avenue in Oregon and also the Kmart in Monroe.
Under Kmart's layaway program, customers can make purchases but let the store hold onto their merchandise as they pay it off over several weeks.
Stacey Wilson, a manager at Kmart in Monroe, said she was "floored" by the generosity her customers have shown to complete strangers.
The Rev. Lee Powell, senior pastor at CedarCreek Church, said it's easy to realize why people donate like that.
"For me it is really simple," he said. "It just feels great and to me it feels good to be a human being and to do that. It is a wonderful thing."
Churches such as CedarCreek have done their part to help needy families at the holidays.
Mr. Powell said the church last week gave away 1,000 hams to help feed area families.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171