By Chris Fasolino
---- — WEST CHAZY — Danielle Nichols is grateful for the surprising generosity of a complete stranger.
And she hopes someday to pay it forward.
Nichols and her fiancé, Matthew Rougier, of West Chazy, believed that they had lost the holiday gifts they had on layaway. They were worried about what they could do for their 3-year-old son, Nathan.
“We were trying to figure out how to pay the bills and buy Christmas presents at the same time,” said Nichols.
It proved to be a difficult struggle — so much so that Nichols believed that the gifts they had on layaway had already been put back on the store shelves.
Then, Rougier’s mother got a call from Kmart.
“They said we should call them, and that it was something good.”
So Nichols called. And she was told that her gifts had been paid for anonymously.
A woman they called the “layaway angel” had paid off most of their balance of nearly $350 — except for $2 and change, which was all Nichols and Rougier still needed to pay.
“Of course I immediately started bawling,” Nichols said. “I still get teary-eyed. Matt couldn’t believe it on the way out — he didn’t believe it until we got to layaway.”
Nichols, Rougier and their son had benefited from a local participant in a nationwide phenomenon — “layaway angels,” as they are being called, anonymously paying for the holiday gifts placed on layaway by strangers.
Stephanie Decker, assistant manager of the Kmart store in Plattsburgh, is familiar with the phenomenon. She estimates that last year, the store had between five and 10 such instances. This year, she has personally been approached by two or three anonymous givers, and she believes there many more.
“Sometimes it is anonymous local business owners who come in and ask to pay for layaways that have toys,” Decker said. “Usually, it’s people coming in to pay their own layaway, and paying off strangers’ layaways at the same time.”
Decker knows of one incident where it was a distant relative paying off someone’s layaway. However the majority of “layaway angels” are helping complete strangers.
The price ranges vary; Decker noted that the earlier in the season, the more people still owe. As it gets later in the season, the amounts are smaller, “but people are still really excited!”
Decker has personally dealt with givers paying for strangers’ layaway at costs between $50 and $150.
After Nichols heard about what had been done for her, she did some research on the phenomenon, and hearing about such things happening all over the country made it seem more real.
“I can’t imagine how many people were in the same place we are and had this happen.”
Of their own helper, she said: “I wish I knew who this person was so I could thank her.”
She said Nathan “doesn’t really understand, but someday he will know, and I just want him to grateful. Last night, we all sat down as a family and said a prayer for the person who had helped us.
“I wish someday in the future that I could do for someone else what she did for us.”