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Layaway angel spends $20,000 at Toys 'R' Us to make Christmas merry for families

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David Pardo/The Victor Valley Daily Press/AP

(Read caption) San Bernardino County Probation officer Maria Kirby helps chaperone as foster children go on a $200 shopping spree during the 13th annual Shop with a Cop event at Walmart in Victorville, Calif., on Sunday.

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They're called "layaway angels."

When the holidays approach, these anonymous individuals make the holidays cheerier for needy families by paying off the balances on people's store accounts.

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This week, a so-called "angel" went into a Toys 'R' Us in Bellingham, Mass., and paid off every open layaway account in the store. That $20,000 act of charity meant an early Christmas present for more 150 people. 

"This incredible act of kindness is a true illustration of holiday giving at its best," the company said in a statement.

Although the donor remains anonymous, The Milford Daily News reports she is a "bubbly older woman and a local" who said she will "sleep better at night" knowing the layaway purchases had been accounted for. 

The trend of anonymously clearing layaway accounts began in 2011, with donations growing to become a national phenomenon. In December 2012, for example, about 600 layaway orders at Toys 'R' Us locations were paid by mystery donors. And last year, a Florida man spent $21,000 of his own money to pay down the layaway balances of more than 75 people at a Walmart in the central part of the state. 

Greg Parady, a financial planner, explained that paying off people's layaway balances, as opposed to donating to a charity, allowed him to see the impacts of his giving in a more personal, intimate way. 

"I know it affected people immediately. I mean they were getting text messages that payments were being made on their accounts while we were there and people were calling saying 'I think there's a mistake,' " Mr. Parady said at the time. "It was so special. It was really special."

Following in that tradition, 2014 has already seen a string of other notable giving sprees:

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On Wednesday, about 200 children got to go on $100-shopping sprees at the Walmart in Farmingdale, N.Y., courtesy of Tom Gubitosi. 

Similarly, police officers in Cape Cod, Mass., bought lunch for 26 children and gave them gift cards worth $200 as part of the annual "Shop with Cops" program. 

And earlier this month, Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson bought $16,266.26 worth of toys for 11 children from Child Protective Services. In his eighth consecutive year doing so, Mr. Johnson, who wears No. 80 on the field, gave each child 80 seconds to run through a Toys 'R' Us store and fill a cart with whatever they could find.