AUBURN — Kayla Blackwell had no idea how she was going to pay for the baby clothes she'd put on layaway at Kmart. Her growing family had too many bills and not enough cash this holiday season. That $60 layaway bill loomed large.
On Wednesday, she was shocked to discover a stranger had paid it.
"It means everything," said Blackwell, of Lewiston, bursting into tears as she picked up her layaway items. "Our car broke down yesterday. We've been trying to figure out how we were going to pay off the layaway and get the car fixed in time for Christmas. It's amazing. I can't believe somebody would do that for someone they don't know."
Actually, for dozens of "someones."
On Tuesday, an anonymous donor walked into the Auburn Kmart and paid off all 64 of the store's delinquent layaways — items that would soon have to be returned to the shelves because people had stopped paying toward their bills, typically because they could no longer afford it.
Then he drove to the Kmart in Waterville and paid off the 32 delinquent layaways at that store, too.
"It's incredible. It's just incredible," Auburn Store Manager Joyce Beane said. "Basically, in the end, he didn't have any stipulations. If it (contained) Christmas presents, he wanted to help those people."
Auburn's delinquent layaway bills each had between $50 and $300 still to be paid. In each case, the donor paid off all but one cent, just enough of a balance to keep the layaway in Kmart's computer system. When customers pick up their items, the store will wipe that penny from the bill as well.
Although Beane declined to say exactly how much the donor spent on strangers' holiday gifts, she said it amounted to several thousand dollars — or about 10 percent of the store's total holiday layaway.
With only a few days left before Christmas, store employees were furiously working to contact the 64 people whose gift balances have been paid.
"I've never made phone calls like this," said Lynne Brooks, the store's human resources coach.
Some of the 64 asked her if she was joking. Some cried. Others were at first embarrassed that the store was calling them about their delinquent bills.
"I say, 'No, no; listen. This is a good thing,'" Brooks said.
About a dozen of the 64 couldn't be contacted by phone because they didn't give a phone number when they set up the layaway, their numbers had been disconnected or their calls were unanswered. The store will send out postcards to those people today, with the hope they'll get the good news in time to pick up their gifts before Christmas.
Once they get past their initial shock and disbelief, those who were reached were elated. One man said he'd lost his job and couldn't afford the gifts he'd set aside. A mother of two told employees she had given up on getting the items she'd put on layaway for her children.
"She just did not have the money to pay those off," Beane said.
Although the man who paid for the delinquent layaway items is Auburn Kmart's biggest benefactor, he isn't the only one. Several other anonymous donors have paid off layaways there in recent days, inspired by national news reports of secret Santas making similar donations at Kmarts across the country.
"It's just made Christmas for so many people," Beane said.
The donations continued Wednesday when two women from Auburn paid off three layaway accounts using about $315 they and two co-workers had pooled. They focused on layaways that contained children's toys or clothes.
"You just know that a lot of people are still struggling this time of the year," said one of the women, who asked to remain anonymous. "Christmas is for kids."
Such a "layaway angel" helped Eva Quinn and her two children. The Sabattus woman had put a cart full of toys on layaway, but she had to move recently and the deposit on her new place ate up the money she'd planned to spend on toys. Before the store told her about her layaway angel, she was planning to wait until she got paid Friday and then buy one gift for each child.
"I didn't have any presents before, at all," she said. "They're going to have a pretty sweet Christmas now."
It's made Christmas pretty sweet for Kmart employees, too. Some have worked at the store for 30 years or more, and they said they had never seen such generosity.
"It kind of gave us this spark," Beane said. "Personally, it gave me the spirit of Christmas."
Staff writer Andrew Cullen contributed to this report.