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'Layaway angels' surprise, inspire shoppers by paying for others' presents

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They walk into a store and swipe their card or write a check, sometimes for thousands of dollars, to help complete strangers have the holiday they've hoped for.

They've been called "layaway angels," and their good deeds are inspiring others to pay it forward.

When Anne Wyant walked into a Rochester Kmart recently to make the final payment on the gifts she'd been slowly paying off for her two kids and other family members she was more than surprised to find out the final $150 payment was already taken care of, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports.

Then Wyant used the money she had left to buy some things for Toys for Tots, the newspaper notes.

Anonymous donors have been making payments to the Rochester and Winona Kmart stores for the past few years, Kmart manager Brian Knobloch told the newspaper. The two donors this time were women that came in and paid off between three to five accounts totaling slightly less than $400.

When these layaway angel stories go public, it inspires others to help strangers – and it seems to grow larger every year. In the last week, several stories of anonymous people paying thousands to clear layaway accounts have made headlines.

On Monday, an anonymous man walked into a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart and paid $50,000 for people's layaway items – the good deed covered 100 accounts filled with mostly toys and electronics, CNN Money said.

The manager of the store got the pleasure of calling the customers to tell them they could come get their gifts – they were overwhelmed and some burst into tears, the publication notes.

Two people in Massachusetts walked into separate Toys 'R' Us stores last week, settling all the layaway accounts, the Boston Globe reported. One was for $20,000 and covered 150 accounts, the other paid $19,600 to cover the balance of the store's 125 accounts.

ABC News highlighted several layaway angels around the country, including a $63,000 donation to close at least 300 accounts in Florida; another person paid $51,000 to clear a Florida Wal-Mart's layaway accounts.

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Earlier this month, ABC's "Good Morning America" aired a "Layaway Live" segment in which they surprised customers by paying off their accounts at a Florida Wal-Mart.

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Pay Away the Layaway, a national charity that raises money to help pay off layaway accounts for families with children, told the Rochester Post Bulletin donations have more than doubled this year, compared to the $25,000 it paid out in 2011, its first year.

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Fox brings us a heart-warmer for the holidays. A trend that started elsewhere is catching on the Twin Cities: So far, four good Samaritans around the metro have called up Kmarts to pay off shoppers' layaway bills. In all four cases, they wished to remain anonymous. And the Star Tribune says another $1,000 has found its way into a Salvation Army kettle.