Nearly 200 shoppers at a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart received an unexpected holiday gift this week, when a mystery person under the moniker "Santa B" paid off $46,265.59 in layaway items.
The world's largest retailer on Friday confirmed that a woman walked into the Walmart store in Everett, Pennsylvania, and handed over a check to pay off the balances on 194 layaway accounts. The story was originally reported by the Bedford County Free Press.
Layaway is a popular way for financially strapped shoppers to put a deposit on their holiday gifts, and pay off the balance throughout the season. It's used at retailers including Wal-Mart and Kmart.
This is the third consecutive year Santa B has paid off the accounts in a Pennsylvania store, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman told CNBC. Though the retailer does not know the identity of the donor, the checks are always signed by a man, she said.
His staff calls the selected store a few days in advance, and receives the final dollar amount from a Wal-Mart employee closer to the time the gift is delivered. This year's donation is the largest amount a Walmart store has received so far this season, the spokeswoman said.
"When customers quietly pay off others' layaway items, we're reminded how good people can be," Wal-Mart said in a statement.
Sandy Terry, one of the shoppers whose account was paid off by Santa B, told CNBC she had put an Xbox on layaway for her 6-year-old grandson, and still owed $75 on her account. But due to surgery complications, she recently had to quit her job, and was worried about how to pay off the balance.
"I'm just so thankful that he's going to get it this year," she said. "Thank you so much to [the person who] paid it off for me."
These types of heart-warming stories pop up each holiday season, thanks to generous donors and charitable organizations. Pay Away the Layaway, a nonprofit group that was founded in 2011, is on pace to pay off a record amount of accounts this season, topping $100,000 in value, founder Lee Karchawer told CNBC.
The group, whose largest partnerships are with Kmart, Toys R Us and Burlington, recently started its season of giving. But the majority of its events, which will occur in roughly 30 U.S. cities, will kick off in earnest this weekend, Karchawer said. The organization keeps those specific locations under wraps to keep the surprise.
"Every year we've gotten bigger and bigger," Karchawer said.
One story still stands out to him. In 2014, Pay Away the Layaway visited a Kmart in the Bronx. Just one day before the event, one woman whose account was paid off had lost everything in a fire.
"She literally just broke down," Karchawer said. "That moment was something I'll never forget."