Monday, December 19, 2011

Call Me the Grinch

Me, as the Grinch, obviously
So, there has been a lot of buzz about a trend this year. Anonymous people are paying off other customers' layaway bills. All the stories I see about this topic are very positive, as they should be, I suppose. The stories are calling the payers "layaway angels" and writing at length about these do-gooders making "Christmas miracles." One woman, who had her layaway bill paid even said, “God opened up the windows of heaven and poured a blessing on me.”


Everywhere I see these stories linked, on various forums and Facebook, people are saying the stories have made them cry, warmed their hearts, and inspired them to do something nice for another person. And that's great. I'm happy that people are inspired by these stories, but frankly, I'm not that moved by the actual acts themselves.

Layaway programs are typically used this time of year for holding gifts that you can't afford by paying them off in small increments until they are paid in full, ideally by Christmas. Call me the Grinch, I just can't get on board with thinking that paying off someone's layaway bill is the greatest way to help another person. In fact, I don't even see it as amongst the top 5 things money should go to.  Layaway programs don't help victims of a natural disasters or domestic violence. They don't educate children, cure cancer, or provide food and clean water to people who go without.

They provide materials items, most frequently those which are unnecessary. And the money ultimately goes to big businesses, like Wal*Mart. I mean, if you want to do something of this nature, comparable nonprofit programs which help give gifts to needy children seem much less frivolous than paying off someone's layaway bill.

Really, I am happy that people are giving to one another. And I'm glad that this positive story has been highlighted by the media, which too frequently focuses on death and destruction. However, the focus does seem to be on consumerism, which, as I've argued before, is far too prevalent this time of year. My advice is that if you feel moved by the "layaway angels" stories, you check out some of the nonprofits in your community and give a gift which will have an impact beyond a present which will end up under a Christmas tree.


  1. I really don't know how to respond to this. Do you have a problem with the Christmas Tree Angels program that has people buy gifts for orphans? They are giving toys the children don't really need as well. In this economy, so many people are suffering and would like to not be reminded about their current dismal economic situation that this truly could be something that changes their lives. From first hand experience I know that many people who use layaway do it because they can't afford to buy even a couple of toys for their children. That's who these people are targeting to payoff the layaway bills - parents who can't afford to payoff their bill to give their children gifts. While they could be donating money to charities, so could we all - whenever we go to a movie, buy a loved on a gift, have internet, cable, etc. To me, this is heartwarming. These acts are not about encouraging consumerism or big box stores - they are about encouraging one another.

  2. Obviously you did know how to respond to it.

    Firstly, go back and re-read my thoughts. I said, "I mean, if you want to do something of this nature, comparable nonprofit programs which help give gifts to needy children seem much less frivolous than paying off someone's layaway bill." so clearly I don't have a problem w/ those Christmas angel trees.

    My point isn't to say that people SHOULDN'T do this stuff, but rather that there ARE other ways to give a this time of year as well. I even took care multiple times in this article to say "that's great" and other affirming things because if you find it heartwarming, that's fine.

    But I don't. That's also fine.

    My sense is that these "angels" go in and pay off layaway bills w/o knowing the story behind the people who are using that program. (It's anonymous, after all.) So how do they know that those gifts are being laid away because the parents legitimately couldn't afford to give their kids anything instead of a parent who routinely lives beyond their means, just because? Or something that someone just laid away on a whim. There's no system in place to ensure the money goes where there is a need.

    As a nonprofit professional, I'd just like to remind everyone that credible organizations in their communities do hard work every day to see that people are taken care of and we often get overlooked because of stories that make great headlines like this.

  3. You're saying people can do it, but that they should donate to non-profits instead. After working for organizations that had to turn away countless applicants, sometimes people have to choose mainstream options in order to do things for their families. All I'm saying is why get down on people for doing something nice for another person who is less fortunate? Obviously donating to worthy non-profits (both time and $$$$) is important as well! I've done it tons! :)

  4. "After working for organizations that had to turn away countless applicants..."

    This hits at exactly what I'm saying. If more people are more generous with nonprofits, then less people are turned away. Donating to the NP sector is simply less risky than assuming the person who is doing a layaway program is needy.

    That said, I wasn't slamming people who've had to use layaway programs. Those are fine. I'm just trying to remind the general public that there are tons of "angels" in the nonprofit sector who do (more) amazing things and don't have their stories plastered across the news.

  5. I agree with you and that's how I found this blog! One news show mentioned that the "angel" helped pay off a flat screen TV! I still have a couple of old tube TVs that I would have been happy to donate!(they're not that old) That's part of the problem with people. EVERYBODY thinks that they NEED to have STUFF, STUFF and MORE STUFF! It's crazy. If you can't afford something then don't put it on layaway! People who lived through the depression LEARNED the value of things and (most) saved and lived within their means. It's one thing, if a poor family, needs food or basic necessities but when they've put frivolous things on layaway, THAT THEY CAN'T AFFORD, it's a different story. BTW, if this is suppose to be a religious holiday WHY the need to keep up with the Joneses? WHY isn't going to church and saying a prayer enough? WHY, get all caught up in the material part of it? Give each kid a toy and explain that times are tough and that's all they're getting this year (and don't go out and buy yourself a Rolex). Explain the REAL meaning of this holiday! I would bet that a month from now, most of these people have a lot of new STUFF on layaway and it won't be essentials!

  6. I am soooooo glad I found this. I completely agree that although it is a very thoughtful gesture, there are so many other causes that require more immediate attention.

    For example, I read that the Salvation Army did not reach its quota for pre-packaged toys for children this year. They were saying that they would have to use funds allocated for other aspects of the organization to purchase these presents. I mentioned this at my job during a moment in a meeting where we were discussing charities and the like, and my boss immediately dismissed me, and mentioned that the trend your article speaks about as a much worthier cause.

    It just seems that there are so many needy people during the holidays and all year round...


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