Five families benefit from woman's generosity

Layaway accounts paid off by Renys 'Secret Santa'

By Jenna Lookner | Dec 22, 2012
Photo by: Jenna Lookner Five Renys customers were surprised when an anonymous "Secret Santa" paid off their layaway account balances on Dec. 17.

Camden — On Friday, Dec 21 it was a struggle to find parking in the ample lot outside the Camden location of the popular Maine department store Renys, but just days earlier an anonymous woman had negotiated the parking chaos and throngs of holiday shoppers in the interest of helping strangers.

Renys Front End Supervisor Carla Thompson said that on Dec. 17 a woman approached the customer service desk with a special request: she wanted to pay the balance for a few unsuspecting strangers with holiday gifts on layaway at Renys.

The act of generosity was impeccably timed, said Thompson. She explained that Renys' policy allows customers to put items on layaway for Christmas with an extended 90-day window to pay off their accounts in advance on the holiday, typically the store offers free layaway for 60 days, according to their website. Despite the extended payment schedule, a holiday layaway must be paid in full and picked up by Dec. 15. Thompson said customers with an outstanding balance at that time receive a courtesy phone call, but ultimately items on layaway are returned to the shelves if the balance goes unpaid.

As of early December, Thompson said Renys had more than 200 boxes of items on layaway for customers.

Thompson said she had been a little forgiving in making those Dec. 15 courtesy calls this year, but after the weekend had passed, leaving just a week until Christmas, she was left with little choice in addressing the delinquent layaway accounts.

"I was getting ready to call families," she said. According to Thompson it was right about then that the anonymous woman approached the customer service counter looking to do a good deed,

While the situation is not unique — in almost a decade of employment at Renys Thompson said she has seen similar acts occur at the store "about every other year" — it was unusual that the woman sought to help strangers, and a number of them.

Thompson said the female benefactor anonymously paid off the remaining balance on layaway accounts for five separate customers. Thompson declined to divulge financial specifics, but said the good Samaritan spent more than $150 on the charitable act.

Thompson said that like-minded altruists in past years have paid layaway balances for both acquaintances and strangers, with the anonymous goodwill split about equally between the two groups by her approximation.

"We get it at least every other year, someone pays off a layaway [anonymously]," she said.

The woman, who Thompson said she has seen in Camden Renys before, was indiscriminate in her desire to help others bear the burden of holiday expenses.

"She said, 'I just want to help a few families,'" Thompson recalled.

Thompson asked the woman how much money she wanted to spend, and selected the outstanding layaway purchases of five customers.

Renys' policy dictates that only staff can inspect items on layaway, and Thompson said she tried to choose bags of items that included children's clothing and toys.

After the transaction was complete Thompson said she called the five customers, informing them of the act of philanthropy and advising that they could pick-up their layaway purchases.

Because the calls were made during the work day, Thompson said she mostly delivered the news on people's answering machines. She recalled one customer was especially touched by the gesture of the Renys "Secret Santa."

"One woman was in tears, she was just ecstatic," Thompson said.

On Dec. 21 she said four of the five customers had collected their paid-off purchases.

"It's always nice to have somebody [anonymously pay off purchases] because it lets you know that there is still kindness out there," Thompson said.

Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at




Comments (2)
Posted by: Caroline | Dec 23, 2012 17:02

I agree Katie, if only, more people did this kind of deed. I am inspired and greatful that this kind of news is reported.

Posted by: Catherine L Leonard | Dec 22, 2012 10:29

The idea of paying it forward has really come to the front this year not just during the Christmas season but all year long!  It is really great that people are going out of their way to help others!  I have heard of these charitable deeds going on so much this year!  It certainly boosts my Christmas spirit!  Brings a smile to my face with every deed I hear about. Thank you secret Santas everywhere!  Merry Christmas Everyone!

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