Brad Hutchinson’s own humble beginnings is what inspires the lifelong resident of Lancaster, Ohio, to dole out his generosity during the holidays now that his fortunes have changed.
Most recently, the 45-year-old business owner paid off 41 layaway tabs totaling around $8,600 at his local Walmart, a move that has become its own Christmas tradition with others doing the same around the country.
For Hutchinson, who grew up in poverty, it’s personal.
“I try to target the families or individuals who are giving it the best they got, but just aren't getting to where they need to be,” said the founder of a scrap, demolition, and construction equipment supplier. “And I want to give them that extra boost.”
The Walmart layaway tradition
Hutchinson is one of many generous benefactors — either known or anonymous — who are striking Walmarts nationwide and making spirits bright by paying off holiday layaway balances in communities like Auburn and Anniston, Alabama; Kalispell, Montana; Meridian, Idaho; Canton, Illinois, and of course, Hutchinson’s own Lancaster.
An NFL linebacker even got into this kind of giving this year. Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears paid off $80,000 in holiday layaways at Walmart in his hometown of Fort Pierce, Florida.
So far this year, $216,000 worth of layaways have been paid off in eight stores with donations ranging from $2,500 to $40,000, Casey Staheli, a spokesman for Walmart told Yahoo Money. But nearly every day, as Christmas inches closer, new philanthropists pop up in local communities, increasing that total.
“We’re honored to play a small role in these acts of kindness,” Staheli said, “and we love seeing the joy it brings to our customers at this time of year.”
There’s no pattern to where these Secret Santas are spreading their cheer, either, Staheli said.
“Wherever people can afford to do it and they feel generous enough to do so,” he said. “There's really no rhyme or reason.”
‘Copycat’ paying it forward
The charity, it appears, is contagious.
After seeing a similar story on the news, Dennis and Judy Noonan of Tucson, Arizona, paid an undisclosed sum to fulfill the balance of 79 layaway accounts at the Walmart in Canton, Illinois, where their son, Mike, is the store manager.
“Speaking for my parents, I think they just wanted to try to help people [who] may be going through a tough time,” the younger Noonan said, “as everybody goes through tough times.”
Mike Noonan was in the unique position as both the store manager and family spokesman to announce in a staff meeting that the balances that included items like children’s toys, homewares, and TVs had been paid in full. After that, his 140 Walmart associates walked around with a spring in their step.
“I think it puts everybody in a little bit better mood,” he said, “and there’s a lot of positive interaction and appreciation.”
For his part, Hutchinson, 45, was also inspired by benefactors who came before him, calling himself a copycat. In addition to his recent Walmart charity, he’s also helped pay off the school district’s lunch debt and covered the utility bills for every Lancaster resident. He even bought a guide dog for a local veteran.
“I’m actually still looking at some stuff this year,” he said. “I’m not sure that I’m done.”
Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.