Secret Santa appears at local toy store

Anonymous donor pays off layaways at local toy store

  • By Rick Shrum December 12, 2012
Dennis Buckley of Avella, his son, John, 2, and his wife, Autumn, leave Toys R Us at the Washington Mall with their layaway, a Thomas the Tank Engine train and table, Wednesday afternoon. The family was one of five that got an early Christmas present: their layaway paid off by a Secret Santa. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Dennis Buckley wasn’t doubting his wife – just the voicemail she received Wednesday.

She called to tell him a manager at Toys R Us in Washington Mall in South Strabane Township had left a message saying someone had paid off her layaway items.

“I said, ‘Honey, it’s a scam. Don’t fall for it,’” said Dennis Buckley, who was in Washington for a meeting, a half-hour drive from their Avella home. “I told her to call the store on her cell.”

Autumn Buckley did, and a Toys R Us manager verified an anonymous man had, indeed, paid off the $205 the couple owed on a Thomas the Tank Engine set and table. She had paid $50 to place the merchandise on layaway as a Christmas gift for the couple’s child, son John, 2.

It was an exhilarating moment, an outstanding example of holiday spirit that John is too young to appreciate, but which left his parents equally gratified and flabbergasted. Especially after they realized they weren’t the only beneficiaries of this Ghost of Christmas Presents.

The store manager told Autumn a man, who would not give his name, paid the layaway balance for the Buckleys and four other customers – and that he does something similar every year. It is a man who, apparently, is equal parts wealthy, recession-proof and generous, and would look good with a white beard and red suit.

“The gentleman said, ‘Give me some layaways, and I’ll pay for them,’” Dennis said. “I don’t know whether he wanted to select five customers or a certain dollar amount.”

No other financial figures were available. The assistant store manager on duty Wednesday afternoon could not be reached.

Dennis was somewhat sheepish after hearing about this stranger’s largess. He said his son, whose birthday was Tuesday, already has a toy train and that the family can afford Thomas and the table. Dennis, 34, is a senior safety coordinator for MarkWest Energy Partners LP in Washington, mainly doing Marcellus Shale-related work. Autumn, 31, is a unit secretary at Canonsburg General Hospital.

Both graduated from Chartiers-Houston High School. Dennis also is in the National Guard, based at the 171st Air Refueling Wing near Pittsburgh International Airport.

This military man wants to salute the person who – quietly, randomly – aided his family and others he doesn’t know. Dennis is considering taking out a newspaper ad to say “thank you.”

“It’s a miracle this could happen,” Autumn said.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a business reporter in 2012. Previously, he was a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won numerous awards, including a Golden Quill, an O-R staff Golden Quill award, and four other writing awards during his 40 plus years working for daily newspapers. A lifelong Pittsburgher, he is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.


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