a good turn on the installment plan

A Good Turn On The Installment Plan

Overcoming hurdles to holiday kindness

For some families, the holiday season that just passed was brightened by a tradition Good Turns hadn’t heard about until recently, but it’s one that, if you live near a Walmart or another similar store, you can take advantage of yourself when you’re thinking of holiday kindnesses at the end of the year.

Psychotherapist Robert Blondeau had never taken part in the tradition, until someone mentioned it in a Facebook group serving the Atlanta neighborhood where he lives. “Somebody sent out a reminder, ‘Hey, today or tomorrow is the last day for Walmart Layaway, you can go up there and pay for people’s layaway,'” he said. “This is something I’ve been wanting to do for the past two or three years.”

For those unfamiliar, Walmart runs a layaway program in the last three to four months of each year. Dates vary by store, but generally last from mid-September to mid-December. It’s a great way for people to set aside merchandise (often for holiday gifts) and pay for it over time, without risk or interest. Any balances that are unpaid at the end of the layaway period are simply returned to customers, less a $10 cancellation fee. For some families, layaway programs can mean a markedly more blessed holiday season.

“As a kid, Christmas is all about receiving. But as you become an adult, there’s something really powerful about giving.”

For Blondeau, it meant an opportunity for a meaningful good turn—though one he had to jump through a couple of unexpected hoops in order to perform. “I just went up to Walmart, and they have a layaway desk, I did what this guy told me, I said to the woman there, ‘I would like to make a good samaritan donation,'” he recalls. “She looked at me quizzically, and said, ‘You want to pay for somebody’s layaway stuff?’ I said ‘Yeah,’ and then she kind of got excited.”

Even so, Blondeau and the woman who hoped to assist him in his act of kindness had to clear an important clerical hurdle before they could proceed. “They literally keep their layaway stuff in a file folder that’s just stuffed full of paper receipts, so she just started digging through these receipts,” Blondeau said. “She asked me, ‘What do you want to pay off?’ I told her I’d like to find one with mostly toys on it.” This touched off a search that took considerably longer than either Blondeau or the clerk could have anticipated, since many of the reciepts in the file folder gave little indication of what merchandise might be involved.

“Eventually, she found one, and from what we could tell it looked like toys. So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll pay that one.’ But she kept looking. At that point, I had been there a while, it was taking such a long time,” Blondeau told Good Turns recently. “Somebody else was behind me and she was wanting to pay off some of her own layaway stuff, and [the clerk] actually was trying to connect us so that I could perhaps pay off some of her stuff, but the woman was kind of angry. [The clerk] said to her, ‘I’ll deal with you in a minute, go stand over there.'”

“Then the woman at the cash register said, ‘You know, there was a lady who came in a few days ago, she put a bunch of stuff on layaway, and she was crying. I think I know which receipt is hers, would you mind if I gave her a call?'” Blondeau thought that sounded like a great opportunity for the kind of gesture he had in mind. But there were yet more roadblocks to navigate. The clerk called the customer, but got no answer, then tried again from her personal phone. “Eventually, this woman called back,” Blondeau said, “but it turned out she wasn’t even going to be able to come in to do anything with the layaway, and it was way more than I was able to spend, so that didn’t work.”

But they kept trying, and finally Blondeau prevailed. “Eventually we found another receipt, and I paid off another one,” he says, “and then the woman who had wanted to pay off her layaway came back and she was getting really angry and irate, and at that point I said, you know, I’m going to step away, and I just walked away.”

Still, the good deed got done. “I like doing things for people, and I had heard of other people doing things like this,” Blondeau says. “In the past what me and my wife Kirsten have done is gone and bought a bunch of toys for Toys for Tots, which is good, but I’ve always wanted to do something anonymously, something very specific for someone. Because honestly, it feels good, it just does. There’s nothing like being able to help someone. It seemed like the right time to do it, and I’m one of those people, if an idea feels right and I have time to do it, I’m just going to do it, because if I think about it, I won’t do it. There’s something about the Christmas season, there’s this idea of just giving. As a kid, it’s all about receiving. But as you become an adult, there’s something really powerful about giving.”

If the measure of adulthood is how giving you are—and that may just be as good a measure as any, and better than most—Blondeau measures up. So think about it next holiday season. And even if there are obstacles to overcome, find out what you have to give.

Photo courtest of Flickr user Mike Mozart

More Good Turns View all
singular devotion at the Mexican border
Building Bridges At The Border
help homeless youth on spider day
Help Homeless Youth For Spider Day
the doctor who learned to help
One Good Turn Spawns Many More