Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

$12K donation means free layaway purchases for some

Somewhere in Del Norte County is an anonymous woman who's been dubbed the "Layaway Angel."

She went to Walmart on Monday and Tuesday to clear dozens of strangers' layaway debts; $12,000 worth, to be exact.

"We went to pay off our layaway and they told us they couldn't find that we owed any money," said one Walmart customer.

His first thoughts were that the gifts he was buying his children were already sold; he asked for the manager, wondering what he was going to do.

The manager informed him a "good samaritan" had come in and paid off several dozen layaway accounts.

"She (the manager) showed us a stack of layaways about three or four inches thick," the customer said. "One of them was for $900."

The man, who asked not to be identified, said he was a fisherman who had to "scratch money" because of the crab season delay.

"She restores my faith in humanity," said the fisherman. "It's not that she just paid ours off, she took it upon herself ... not looking for anything in return."

Chasity James called Walmart this week, unsure of when her balance needed to be paid. When she found out that her sons' $250 worth of gifts needed to be picked up by next Friday and that the balance she owed was nil, "it was a nice release."

"I'm a full-time mommy and things get tight around the holidays," said James. "I would like to tell her that our family is very thankful and we appreciate it and words aren't enough to express our thanks."

When Frances Ortega went to put $20 dollars on an account for her child's gift and was told her bill was paid in full, she thought it was a joke.

"I was still holding the money out after she told me," said Ortega. "She just printed the receipt and gave me the toy. It made me want to cry."

"It was just the thought that blew me away. You only hear about stuff like that in the movies."

Ortega was standing near the line after receiving her child's toy when she saw other customers begin to cry once they were told their balance was paid.

"She just makes me look at life in a different perspective," said Ortega.

There have been other people in the past couple of years who have anonymously paid for layaway accounts, but none who have paid this much, said Nick Gonnella, manager of the Crescent City Walmart.

As the "Layaway Angel" was paying for the accounts, a couple of customers went through the line looking frustrated because they were going to close out their accounts unable to pay the rest of the balance, Gonnella said.

"She told them don't worry about it," said Gonnella. "They were awestruck."

He estimates up to 100 of the store's 250 accounts were paid off by the "Layaway Angel." The accounts are placed on a list starting with the earliest opened, so she just went down the list, Gonnella said.

The woman told Gonnella that she had been planning to use the money for a family trip to Hawaii, but when some of her children weren't able to make it, she decided to donate the money instead.

"You think of what she could've done with this money and instead she uses it to help people through the holidays," said Gonnella. "The whole time she was excited to do it. She didn't have any second thoughts about it."

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