Kacee Jackson’s daylong scramble to pay for the presents of 83 Austin, Texas, families was inspired by a single Toys R Us receipt: one for an Amazon Fire tablet and a You and Me 16-inch Baby Deluxe doll set, which cost a combined $69.98, plus tax.
Jackson, who makes a living advising people who are trying to avoid having their homes foreclosed, had come across that receipt after meeting with a client going through a particularly rough patch of life. The client told him that her biggest worry, aside from losing her house, was that she could not afford the Christmas presents she had ordered for her son and daughter. She had already paid $20. She could not afford the rest.
Jackson said the exchange left him stunned. A few days later, he drove to a local Toys R Us where presents had been put on layaway. He paid the balance. He also looked at other receipts for people in the same position as his client – people who, for whatever reason, were unable to pay for the toys they had ordered.
"The receipts were telling a story," Jackson said. So he paid for them all. Then he drove to another Toys R Us in town, posting a Facebook message along the way, urging friends to help him pay for more presents. By the time Jackson drove to Austin’s third Toys R Us location, some of his friends were making donations too.
By the end of the day on Saturday, Jackson and his friends had paid off all but one of the remaining orders that parents had been unable to cover, he said.
"I’ve had a fortunate couple of years, and it just felt good to give back," Jackson, 41, told the Austin American-Statesman. "These weren’t people asking for help, asking for a handout. They just didn’t have the money to pay for these gifts."
Jackson is far from the only "Secret Santa" who has been paying peoples’ layaway bills around Christmas. Under most layaway programs, people order a gift earlier in the year and make periodic payments leading up to a deadline near Christmas. Those who cannot pay by the deadline get their money back but see their orders put back on the shelves.
A few years ago, Southern California entrepreneur Kent Clothier began taking his daughter to department stores and giving her some money to pay off remaining layaway balances. Clothier has since tried to start a movement among other people of means. He coined the #1000layaways hashtag.
Jackson saw one of Clothier’s promotional videos a while back, but he is apparently not the only Secret Santa in Austin. At another Toys R Us location, four sets of people, the first of whom approached management Dec. 10, collectively paid for 25 or so layaway orders that were about to go back on the shelf, said Jessi Raulerson, the assistant manager of the store.
"They just wanted to give back to the community," Raulerson said. "There are definitely still goodhearted people in the world."
To help the families with orders on layaway, the store manager had pushed back the deadline from this past Wednesday to Saturday – the day Jackson happened to come by to pay for the Christmas presents his client worried she could not afford. After talking with the manager, Jackson decided to cover the rest of the orders at that store. He then headed to the other two Toys R Us locations. He said friends contributed about $3,500, helping bring the total spent to about $11,000.
Jackson, whose business partner brought his story to the attention of the Statesman, makes no claims on selflessness.
"At 41 years old, rarely in my life have I ever really given a flip about most charities," he wrote on his Facebook page. But the receipts drove home the notion that success brings an obligation to help others.
"Not for religious reasons, not for financial reasons, and not for vanity," he wrote. "But just because we can, and because (of) the change that it brings to others."
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.