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Mecklenburg Commissioner And Friends Turn Into Santa’s Helpers For The Holidays

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A micro-social philanthropy movement hit the holidays last year at stores like Kmart and Wal-Mart, when people across the country took to anonymously paying off layaway accounts for families in need, all in the spirit of Christmas giving.

The so-called “layaway angels” made an appearance in Charlotte, including one group led by Brianne Willard, Curtis Watkins and Matthew Ridenhour. The trio got started with their effort late in the holiday season, but made the most of it by posting messages on Facebook and Twitter, encouraging friends and family to donate what they could to Willard’s PayPal account. Within a day’s time they managed to raise nearly $500, which Willard used to pay off the full layaway tabs for five families and partial account balances for another three families.

Layaway is a service that allows people to set aside items at a store and stretch out payments without interest. But if the balance can’t be covered or payments are missed, the items end up being returned to store shelves.

That’s where layaway angels and their brand of micro-social philanthropy step in to lend a holiday hand.

“It’s a great way to give people an opportunity to pool their resources to make a bigger impact,” said Ridenhour, who earlier this month began serving his inaugural term on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.

The trio of local layaway angels is at it again this year, expanding their previous one-day blitz by taking to social media earlier in the holiday season and launching a website where people can donate to the effort.

The group will use the same strategy as last year to help ensure that donated funds make their way to Christmas-appropriate layaways, by asking a store manager to find accounts that are near their expiration date for children’s toys and clothes.

“These are items that you know a family needs, what they were going to purchase, but couldn’t make the financial ends meet,” Willard said. “It’s a little way for people to help make a big difference.”

So far the group has raised $700 towards its $1,000 goal this year, which should be enough to help about 20 families with their layaway accounts, Ridenhour said.

The aptly named ‘Pay Away the Holiday’ effort is accepting donations through Friday. Here’s the website again; click and help spread some Christmas cheer.

Donations can also be sent via PayPal to payawaytheholiday@gmail.com.

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