Christmas is 20 days away, but Santa has already made a top-secret stop at a Walmart in North Miami Beach.
Just weeks before the big day, “Secret Santa” is helping to lessen the holiday burden for some deserving South Florida families. When Walmart manager Joe Moniz called one recipient with the news Wednesday, she didn’t believe it at first.
“I have some good news for you. Secret Santa came by today and paid off the rest of your balance here at the store,” Moniz told the customer.
“No way!” she responded. He told her it was true.
“And this is not a joke?” she asked.
“No, it's not a joke,” he replied.
Instead, it’s a Christmas tradition – sponsored for a second year by the South Beach Athletic Club and a donations to a website called payofflayaways.org. On Wednesday the groups handed over a check for $500 – money that will help pay off those last few dollars of layaway payments for five to six families.
New mom Chyvone Washington is happy to hear Santa made a secret stop, as she was piling on the presents to lay away for her son Kevin's first Christmas.
“For something like that to happen, that’s a gift from God,” she said.
Each family was chosen from a list of hundreds by Moniz. He places those surprise phone calls, and then savors the smiles in person.
“I saw many children come in – how many smiles we saw last year. And we intend to double that number,” he said.
Ulrick Noel was among the first to get a call, and the first to pick up his gift – a computer for his wife.
With a name like his, Noel says he knew it was Christmas kindness that cleared his last payment of $162 – just ahead of Walmart's layaway cut off.
“We only have 9 days, and we're now counting down to how many days pay off layaway is going to actually work,” said R.S. Schmitt of the South Beach Athletic Club.