How To Pay For Layaway Toys For Strangers At Large Retail Stores This Holiday Season

The holiday season is an excellent time to step up your charitable giving, with toy drives, coat drives, and other philanthropic enterprises going full throttle before the year's end. But while these organized efforts are certainly worth your time and money, there's another way to make sure you get gifts to children in need: paying the outstanding balance on someone's toys on layaway.

Around the holidays, big retailers like Toys "R" Us, Kmart, Walmart, and Target offer layaway programs at some stores, which allow shoppers to put toys and other gifts on hold while they pay them off over the course of a few months. It's a good option for folks who can't afford to drop a ton of cash all at once, though it's not necessarily just for lower income shoppers. Still, over the last few years there's been a spike in so-called "Layaway Santas," i.e., people who secretly pay off strangers' layaway bills, with stories circulating about anonymous shoppers donating anywhere from a few to hundreds of dollars to close an account. Just last month, for instance, a man dropped over $10,000 to pay off two layaway orders at a Toys "R" Us in New Jersey, telling reporters he was just "trying to bring some happiness to people."

You don't have to spend your savings to spread holiday cheer, but it turns out it's not super difficult to pay for someone else's layaway order. Danielle Sepulveres, a New York-based freelance writer, tweeted on Wednesday that she was inspired to pay off some orders after one of her friends announced she planned to do it this year:

"I had a little bit of extra cash that was unexpected this year, so I thought it might be nice to help someone else out," Sepulveres, who got a new job around Thanksgiving, tells Bustle.

The first thing Sepulveres learned is that it's a good idea to call the location first to make sure they offer layaway programs, since not all do. "A couple of the Toys 'R' Us locations I called said they don't do layaway," Sepulveres says. She ended up finding a Kmart that offered layaway, and called them to find out what the process was.

In order to pay off a layaway account, Sepulveres says, you do have to show up in person, so they can confirm you are real. Then, you can tell whoever oversees the layaway program that you'd like to spend X amount of money, and choose how you'd prefer to mete it out. "One of my other friends said she went in and said, 'Is there anyone who's about to lose their deposit?'" Sepulveres said. "That's probably more helpful than just [paying] in general," but I just called and said, I'll come in and tell you how much I want to spend, and you can divvy it up, or apply it to two or three people, as long as it closes their layaway account."

You don't have to be rolling in cash to help out, Sepulveres says, especially since it's so close to Christmas and many layaway plans are about to expire. "At this point there may be some [orders] with $20 left on them, so it's not that big of a deal," she says, adding, "It seems like a nice way to help locally."

Of course, if you're specifically trying to help brighten a child's Christmas, you may want to make sure your donation is going towards kids' toys and not, say, an expensive self-purchased toy for a grown-up. "I don't want to pay off some adult's X-Box," Sepulveres says.

Then again, adults need Christmas gifts, too...

Maybe next year, Santa!