St. Nick hit Payson a couple of days early this year.
This week an anonymous benefactor wrote a check for $4,800 to pay off the Christmas layaway accounts for the whole store.
Which means 6-year-old Donovan Christianson will get a new bike to replace the one stolen out of his yard after all. His dad owed $150 on the layaway account, but feared he couldn’t finish the payments after his older son got injured in a car accident.
“That bike really will be from Santa Claus this year,” said Christianson of the gift he says changed everything for the family this year.
“It just made a huge difference,” said Christianson, who has been making frequent trips to the Valley to root for his older son, recovering from the accident.
Rick Popke, the assistant manager who worked with the donor, said, “I was absolutely floored. I didn’t even know how to go about paying off all those accounts. And now it’s just sparked these random acts of kindness — every single person that hears about it wants to do something. Every time I tell the story, it just brings me to tears,” said Popke, who couldn’t remember any other such incidents in his seven years in retail.
Matthew Hannigan, the store’s co-manager, said “the customers have really been overwhelmed. A lot of people just couldn’t afford to pick up their stuff, so it’s a great Christmas present — even for people not directly affected.”
Walmart had discontinued its layaway program five years ago, but revived it this year for toys and electronics due to the still rough economy.
Payson’s St. Nick paid off average balances of about $160 per customer, salvaging Christmas for many of those families.
Assistant manager Anette Beck said “St. Nick” originally came in with his wife and asked whether they could do something to help people.
They learned about one of the sales associates, a single mother facing serious financial problems at Christmas. So they paid off her layaway account.
The next day, St. Nick came in without Mrs. Claus and asked Popke what else he could do.
“He said he wanted to be completely anonymous — but asked if he could pay off every layaway on the books.
Popke tallied up the 30 accounts and came up with a big number: $4,800.
“He didn’t hesitate at all when I told him the balance: That floored me,” said Popke.
Deneille Hogue and her fiance Christianson soon got a call telling them to come down and pick up the bike they had nearly abandoned hope of putting under the tree this year.
“Kind of restores your faith in people,” said Deneille, whose faith had been dented by the theft of her boy’s bike from his yard — followed by the terrifying accident on Thanksgiving that had overshadowed Christmas.
“It’s such a load off,” said Christianson of the gift. “That bike was his main thing.”
Popke said St. Nick didn’t want anyone to know who provided the gifts, but did leave contact information.
“He didn’t want anything, but he deserves something,” said Popke.
So Popke hopes to collect thank you notes to pass along to St. Nick on Christmas Day. Just bring them to Walmart and drop them off, he said.
“He doesn’t want recognition, but maybe I can give something back to him.
Heck, about time someone got something for St. Nick on Christmas.