MADISON, Wis. (12/20/11)--Employees at the Madison, Wis., offices of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) were so moved by a story Friday on Yahoo! about anonymous donors who paid off layaway plans at K-Mart for those in need--that they wanted to try it--and found out what a difference a few people can make.
After reading the article, Courtney Cantwell and Meghann Dawson, employees of CUNA's Center for Professional Development, called a nearby Wal-Mart that offered layaway services and learned it had 50 to 60 layaways that needed to be paid for and picked up by the end of the day Friday.
"Meghann and I decided we would go after work and pay our own good fortune forward. We didn't have a ton of money to contribute, but we wanted to do something. Then we thought about opening it up to the small group of folks who were at the office," said Cantwell. Dawson e-mailed some staffers on third floor. Other floors got wind of it. Between 10.35 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Friday, the two collected $519 from co-workers. "We were once again astounded by the gratitude of our co-workers," said Cantwell.
They took the money after work and visited the layaway area, telling Mike, the manager on duty, that they wanted to pay off as many layaways as possible with the funds and that kids would get priority. The manager pulled up a list of layaways and a box of receipts and set aside receipts for toys, bikes, and other kid-friendly items. Listed on each was the person's name and contact information.
Cantwell and Dawson took turns calling. They left messages on answering machines but continued to call until a person answered. "We introduced our selves--first names only--and told them we were calling to let them know their layaway had been paid off--they could come to Wal-Mart to pick up their purchases," they said.
Some were confused and thought Dawson and Cantwell were Wal-Mart employees with reminders to pick up their merchandise. Some thought the calls were pranks. Many broke down in tears when informed. Some had under $50 left on their layaway bill, an amount many would consider small, but it made a huge difference to them.
One woman arrived at the store right after the call and asked if the callers were still in the store. She wanted to thank them personally and give them a hug. She said she had planned to leave the little pink bike at the store because she couldn't afford to pay the balance, but because of their generosity the bike will be under the tree.
One woman simply didn't believe them. But later, Cantwell received a voice mail from her. "God bless you for the rest of your life," the recipient said. "These toys are for my two great grandsons--they're four, they're twins. I've had them since April of this year. I got them out of foster care. This is going to be such a blessing for them. And I really, really can't say how much I appreciate this."
After the calls, Dawson and Cantwell had $30 left, so they walked around the store trying to figure out what to do next. They saw two women at a Subway, buying four subs. "We are buying your dinner," they told the women.
All in all, they paid off nine layaways and bought one family dinner. The article that they had read sparked others elsewhere to do the same. For a look at the article that started it, use the link.