West View residents Jessica and Michael Zeppenfeld have been touched by an angel—a Kmart layaway angel.
“Last week we had heard about these Kmart angels making payments, and I said to my husband, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be amazing if someone paid our layaway?’ ” Jessica Zeppenfeld, 31, said today.
“Literally 10 minutes later, a woman called from the Kmart [and] said a lady [came] in and made a payment on our layaway. We both started crying”
The anonymous generosity shown to the Zeppenfelds is one of the latest examples of a trend erupting from California to Maryland, in which benefactors head to Kmart stores across the country and pay off the layaway balance of a family chosen at random.
"It's been an organic development," said Shannell Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Sears Holdings Corp., which owns Kmart. "We don't promote it. We're just trying to keep up with the reports that keep coming in."
Those reports are increasing daily, according to Mike Divoky, 42, manager for the McIntyre Square Kmart.
“We’ve had a bunch,” Divoky said. “Since last week, every store in the area has had at least one [layaway angel].”
He estimates that at the McIntyre Square Kmart alone, at least a dozen layaway angels have put more than $1,200 towards the bills of complete strangers, like the Zeppenfelds.
“It just means so much,” Zeppenfeld said. “I just wish I could thank whoever did it.”
As have many other Americans, the Zeppenfelds said they have had a turbulent year. Jessica Zeppenfeld, who said she grew up in Allegheny County's foster-care system, and her husband Michael, adopted a 10-month-old niece, Sarah, when the infant's mother no longer could care for her.
The Zeppenfelds have three other children in the family—Hannah, 8, Jacob, 6, and Olivia, 5 months. Jessica Zeppenfeld said it’s financially impossible this year to provide everything the children want for Christmas.
“Things are just so expensive these days,” she said.
Michael Zeppenfeld, 38, who works for a union at a local steel mill, and Jessica had put Christmas gifts for the children, including Legos and dolls, on layaway in early December. Between the layaway angel’s $50 gift and the payment the Zeppenfelds already made, a balance of only $50 remains.
Divoky said he has never seen anything like this recent wave of generosity in his 25 years of retail-sales experience.
“It’s a really nice thing that people just show up and want to pay,” he said. “Especially because a lot of people are struggling these days.”
“It’s definitely tight,” Zeppenfeld said. “After my daughter made her list to Santa, I asked her if she could settle for just one thing that she really really wanted. But it’s hard, you know, because my kids still believe.”
And now, because of an angel, Jessica said she does, too.
“It just makes you realize there are still good people in the world.”