Laura Wiens, The Triplicate

Nick Gonnella knows how to keep a secret. But it's not easy.

For the second Christmas season in a row, the Walmart store manager has kept the identity of whom he calls the "layaway angel" under wraps.

"I respect that she wants to be anonymous," said Nick, "but part of me just wants to scream out her name."

Nearly 100 layaway accounts were paid in full last year alone through the generosity of this "angel," according to Nick.

"It's pretty awesome to see that many people helped," he said. "I've seen some come in to cancel their accounts because things have changed or they didn't have enough money to finalize (the balance of the account). After being told that it's been taken care of, some customers are just in tears, very thankful that someone would do that for them."

Just ask LeAnn Cox of Crescent City. She sent the following letter to the Triplicate for publication:

"To the Good Samaritan who paid off my daughter's layaway this year, I would like to say thank you so much. My daughter has had a difficult time of it this year and called me the day that her layaway was due, tearful because she did not have quite enough money to pick it up and felt embarrassed by having to ask me for help.

"I was very surprised when I got there and they said it's already been paid for and not to worry about anything being owed. When I asked how, they expressed that a Good Samaritan had come in and paid off many of them.

"It made me smile from deep within my heart for the kindness that you expressed to many strangers this year. It made my daughter cry when I told her what had happened. We both have since 'played it forward' to others in this area who are also less fortunate to complete this circle of giving.

"So once again, thank you for restoring my faith in human kindness and making my daughter feel a little less sad. There is a special place in Heaven for beautiful people like you."

We couldn't agree with you more, LeAnn.

If the shoe fits ...

A shoe for every foot. That's the gist of a crusade Larry Retzlaff of Smith River adopted a few years ago as a result of seeing kids unable to play in organized sports without the expensive cleats necessary to participate.

But these days you don't have to be an athlete to score a pair of shoes.

Every second and fourth Saturday of the month, Larry organizes - with the help of Linda Schreiber and her daughter, Abbey - a shoe exchange open to anyone in need of shoes, in the lower level of the Brookings Elks Lodge from 1 to 3 p.m.

"We have a lot of shoes," said Larry. On any given day, he says, "We put out about 500 or 600 pair."

There's an assortment of dress shoes, tennis shoes, sandals, work boots, kids shoes, water shoes and rain boots.

Linda says they carefully sort through every shoe they receive. "If they're in really, really good shape, we put them out.

"We have every size and every type of shoe," she said. "A lot of them are brand new. We get shoes that still have tags on them. Some have never been worn."

She said elderly gentlemen often come in to get a pair of cleats to use when doing yard work.

"They like to wear cleats so they don't slip, especially if they live on a slope and it's muddy."

For those who have shoes they'd like to donate, there are drop-off points at Julindra Recycling in Crescent City, and at Smith River School, where you can also acquire shoes. A dropoff bin is set up outside the Elks Lodge in Brookings as well.

Linda says volunteers are always needed and that there are fundraising opportunities for youth and sports groups who get involved with the exchange.

Call Linda for information at (541) 469-9850.

Reach Laura Wiens at