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OUR VIEW: Layaway angels brighten Christmas

By: ed
December 21, 2012
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’Tis better to give than receive.

It’s a cliché we hear a lot this time of year, but it’s one we’re particularly fond of. Clichés are mere victims of their own success. An expression becomes a cliché only if it speaks so clearly that people use it to make a complicated concept simple.

So take at face value that giving is better than receiving. It provides more lasting fulfillment. Discovering new ways to give can make it that much better.

A great innovation in giving took off last year and seems to be gaining momentum this year. Givers in this new charitable maneuver are known as “layaway angels.”

Layaway was a thing of the past in the last bull market, as stores rightly assumed that consumers without cash had access to credit. After four years of economic stagnation and new regulations on credit cards, millions of Americans are maxed out, shut out or simply discouraged from using conventional credit.

So, most major retailers offer layaway again. Shoppers ask stores to set aside products. The consumers make incremental payments and take possession of the goods only after they are paid for in full.

Often, a person of modest or below-average means puts gifts for children on layaway with every intention of paying for them sometime before Christmas. Sometimes it works out, other times it does not. Either way, layaway can represent economic struggle.

All over the country, retail outlets are telling stories of layaway angels who come into a store and pay off layaway balances for perfect strangers. Fortunate recipients of these good deeds are told that an anonymous donor satisfied the bill. Imagine the joy this brings to a person who can barely afford Christmas.

“I just felt all warm and fuzzy inside,” said a single mom who learned that a layaway angel had paid her $111.72 layaway bill at a Colorado Springs Kmart. “I still have a smile on my face. It is amazing to know there are still people out there like that who do these things, especially with all that is going on.”

The angel walks away with knowledge that someone, probably of lesser means, will have a better holiday. Children will receive presents their parents could barely afford. For the giver, this can be about as big a thrill as money can buy.

For the receiver, it may represent an opportunity to give. The single mother at Kmart said the gift will enable her to donate part of her next paycheck to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

We encourage anyone who is economically secure to consider the role of layaway angel this last weekend before Christmas. Talk to store personnel and offer a contribution, large or small.

Not all families in need are cared for by government or traditional public and private social services agencies. Most are not on street corners begging for change or asking for help in any other way. Some just struggle along, quietly trying to make ends meet while getting through the holidays in desperate hope of not disappointing their kids. Layaway angels stand a great chance of reaching hardworking parents, guardians and grandparents who could use a financial break.

If you’re out shopping today, or any day before Tuesday, think of ways to help perfect strangers know that someone out there cares. You will be happy that you did.

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