The giving spirit of Christmas is alive and well in the Mid-Ohio Valley, thanks to those who want to pay their good fortune forward-or be a Christmas angel and pay off layaway accounts for complete strangers.
Drive-thru customers at Tim Hortons in Marietta have been "paying it forward" to those waiting in line behind them, by paying their tab before they roll up to the drive-up window.
The result can be a chain reaction from those in line who keep on paying, and paying, for others' orders.
"One day it went to 16 cars before the last person," said Kathy Ferguson, owner/operator of three Mid-Ohio Valley Tim Hortons stores.
"They don't ask for the total on the person's bill," she added.
"They don't even care," agreed Bethany Benear, a customer service cashier at the Marietta Tim Hortons.
Layaway plans are a way for customers to pay for purchases in installments.
A layaway plan makes it easy for a customer to make larger purchases.
Layaway plans discourage impulse spending because the customer can't take the purchase home until it is paid in full.
Using a layaway plan lets a customer "reserve" a purchase when the item is available, or when it is at a special sale price.
The good samaritan's tab might be just $1 and the person she's treating could have $12 worth of food and drinks, she added.
These Tim Hortons' customers "aren't looking for a thank you. They pay it forward and move on through their day," Ferguson said.
Customers at the Marietta Tim Hortons who are on the receiving end of paying it forward tend to ask the same questions.
"They'll ask 'Who is that?' 'Do I know that person?' or 'Did they say their name?'" said Jennifer Rios, supervisor at the Marietta Tim Hortons.
Something similar has been happening at the Marietta McDonald's on Pike Street, according to Todd Morris, general manager.
One McDonald's customer comes through the driveway every morning and uses her debit card to pay it forward for the driver behind her, said Morris.
Customers are "very appreciative 99 percent of the time," he added.
For Morris, this continuing trend is better than all the negative news he usually hears.
"It's those random acts of kindness that are what the season is about," he said.
Although the Marietta Kmart has not had a Christmas layaway angel winging his way into the store to pay off a lucky someone's account this year, staffers did see them last year and are expecting the angels to start flocking into the store around Dec. 15, said Judy Sharp, softlines area manager.
Until then, corporate Kmart has instituted "the big layaway giveaway" to give the season a kick start.
Under the program, Kmart layaway customers are randomly chosen to have their layaway totals paid off.
Four Marietta Kmart customers have benefited from the program so far this year, Sharp said. One customer had a $400 layaway paid, another a $300 layaway and a third a $20 layaway.
The Kmart giveaway started in October and continues through Dec. 24, said Sharp.
One of the lucky winners tracked Sharp down in the store to say thank you.
"I could hear her coming from the back of the store. I thought something was wrong," Sharp remembered.
The customer, who was beyond excited, was saying "I just won! They just paid off my layaway!"
Kmart shopper Cindy Rogers, 38, of Waterford, was delighted to hear that strangers are paying it forward for other Christmas shoppers.
"With the economy the way it is, the generosity of somebody paying off your layaway would be a huge relief," she said.
Elizabeth Bellville, 40, of New Matamoras, who was shopping at Kmart Friday, has two layaway accounts with the Marietta Kmart store.
The cost of recent health care issues combined with the cost of buying Christmas presents for her family has been challenging this year, she said.
However, Bellville remains faithful about the lessons she learned as a child raised in the church.
A member of Washington Hall Christian Union church in New Matamoras, she said she and other church members "try to give back all year long. If you can give, give."