Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

December 24, 2011

Layaway angels visit Effingham Kmart

EFFINGHAM — Some people say angels are among us, and the saying rings true for several families in the Effingham area, whose holidays will be a little brighter thanks to an anonymous Kmart layaway angel.

    The charitable phenomenon that’s made national headlines happened in the Effingham Kmart store last weekend, when one woman in her 40s or 50s came to the store with who’s assumed to be her husband, and paid off four different layaways.

    “There are angels paying off layaways all over the country right now,” said Theresa Mathy, manager of the Effingham K-Mart store. “But this is the first time it’s ever happened here.”

    Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Effingham resident and mother of six children ranging from age 1 to 12, is one of four families who had their layaways paid off a week ago.

    Fitzgerald spent last Saturday coordinating a bake sale to raise funds for medical expenses for her friend’s baby, who’s in St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She’s been arranging the event since Dec. 1, and put her most of her time and energy toward helping her friend in need.

    After making phone calls all day Saturday and being exhausted from her hectic fundraiser, Fitzgerald went to bed Saturday night, leaving her phone on its charger because it died earlier in the day.

    It wasn’t until Sunday morning when she checked her voicemails that she realized her $38 layaway had been magically paid off by a stranger.

    “I was so thankful. It’s not that I couldn’t pay it, I just forgot. It was delinquent,” Fitzgerald said.

    She admitted when she checked her voicemail, she didn’t even realize what the message was from Kmart.

    “I was like, ‘What layaway?’” she said. “I had to listen to my voicemail again. I was like, ‘Wait, wait ... what?’”

    She even replayed the message for her husband, who was also surprised.

    “He said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

    But Fitzgerald believes you get what you give, and it was an act that’s deserved for all the families who had their layaways paid off.

    “I believe in karma. I believe when you do good for someone else, good comes back to you,” Fitzgerald said.

    She’s more than thankful for the kindness of the stranger’s heart, even if her payment was a small one.

    “And I just want to thank whoever it was. For a lady to pay $38 for someone she doesn’t even know, out of the kindness of her heart, that’s awesome,” Fitzgerald said.

    It was even more shocking for Fitzgerald that an act that’s been covered by national news outlets came to the small town of Effingham.

    “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s so nice,’” Fitzgerald said about hearing it on the news. “There are still good people out there. They’re not all bah humbug. I just want to make sure whoever it was, she knows she’s greatly appreciated.”

    The random stranger who came in to Effingham’s Kmart wasn’t the only generous act. A local Bible study group from an Effingham church also stopped by and paid off three layaways last Friday after hearing about it on the news, Mathy said.

    “They all wanted to remain anonymous,” Mathy said, adding the woman who paid off layaways said she was a cancer victim who was given 10 months to live. December marked her 13th month since her diagnosis, and she wanted to pay it forward, believing God gave her a second chance.

    “‘I’ll be back next year,’” Mathy said the lady told Kmart employees. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. And when we called customers, it was very touching.”

    The stranger asked employees to find layaway accounts that had several toys on them and that were delinquent. Between the stranger and Bible study group, seven layaway accounts were paid off totaling between $200 and $400, Mathy said.

    “I think this is wonderful and so touching. I was really amazed when it happened, and then two days in a row. And the year’s not over yet,” Mathy said, adding the Bible study group called to verify it was okay to come in and pay off delinquent layaways.

    “With the economy the way it is, it couldn’t have come at a better time. This lady is just phenomenal. What else can you say but ‘Wow?’”

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