Yes, Mount Pleasant, there is a Santa Claus.
He (or she) quietly slips into the Kmart and anonymously pays off your layaway, never asking questions or for anything in return -- except maybe that their donation be used on the accounts filled with toys for good little girls and boys.
It is one sure way of passing the spirit of Christmas on to other families.
As the final shopping days before the holiday arrived in the Lowcountry, thousands of dollars worth of layaways had been paid off for unsuspecting Kmart shoppers. Some have put $40, $100 or $200 toward waiting Christmas gifts, and at least one has shelled out $1,500 to make someone's day brighter.
For a lot of people, this is nothing short of a Christmas miracle, a ray of hope at a time when they desperately need it. But the kind souls who are doing this don't want publicity, attention or any show of thanks. They are simply trying to make someone's holiday better.
And it's working.
No better time
This layaway payoff is a national trend. It apparently started in Michigan with a woman who made the gesture in memory of her husband. It has spread across the country, to North Charleston's store and Mount Pleasant.
Terry Northcutt, the store manager at the Mount P. Kmart, says some of these people -- and there have been probably 24 or more of them in his store -- usually ask if anyone's having trouble paying off their layaway. The staff has steered these donations to people they felt truly needed the help, particularly those who have had items on layaway so long they are about to be reshelved. Or layaway accounts with children's clothing or toys, so they know the gift is going to a family.
"It just really goes to show you that people really do believe in that spirit of giving this time of year," Northcutt said. "When someone's layaway has been paid in full, I call them and they all react the same way. They say, 'It couldn't have come at a better time.'"
In the North Charleston store, one assistant manager says they've had customers break down in tears when they learned that one of these "Layaway Angels" had paid their tab.
They were, in a word, joyful.
'Tis the season
This country is suffering through the worst economic times since the Great Depression. Employment is hovering around 10 percent, and even charities are struggling to help people. It is a bad time, and some people will go without on this day.
And that's just wrong.
Today is not the time to cast blame for these maladies or point fingers (we've got the rest of the year for that). It's better to recognize folks doing good. Because as Northcutt said, recalling a story he once heard, an anonymous donor is doing it for the right reason.
So offer a bit of thanks today for those people who took the time out of their busy holiday season to try and make things a little better for people who really need it.
There could not be a better story to tell on this day, or any better way to say Merry Christmas.
Follow Brian Hicks on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.