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They pay off toys on layaway at Christmas. But this year they were the ones surprised

"We all remember having really great Christmases," Middle Georgia Layaway Santa says

Lee Greenway and seven other young professionals are anonymously paying off Layaway accounts at stores in Middle Georgia. This year, the group received more financial support than ever.
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Lee Greenway and seven other young professionals are anonymously paying off Layaway accounts at stores in Middle Georgia. This year, the group received more financial support than ever.

Santa’s elves, who annually have a surprise in store for dozens of unsuspecting Middle Georgia families, received a surprise of their own this year.

The Middle Georgia Layaway Santa group, in its fourth straight year of raising money to pay off toys on layaway, received $10,000 in donations this year. That’s three times the highest amount it has ever raised.

“It’s amazing,” said Chris Tsavatewa, who helped create the group four years ago.

In 2013 and 2014, about $1,000 was raised to help a total of 40 families. Last year, the group expanded, created a social media campaign, and ended up raising a total of $3,100 on an online crowd-funding website to help 25 families.

“This year we kind of threw out a bunch of ideas, everything from doing a butt sale to a cake sale (and) local business donation jars,” Tsavatewa said. “All of that is what got us over our goal of $4,000, so it got us to $6,000.”

On Thursday, the owners of Stormy’s Vapor Cellar, a shop that sells devices akin to electronic cigarettes, surprised the group with a $4,000 check.

“They were inspired by just the momentum,” Tsavatewa said.

The group paid off $2,000 in layaway items at Roses on Wednesday. On Thursday, it paid off $2,000 at the base exchange on Robins Air Force Base, $2,000 at Toys R Us and spent the remainder on layaway items at Kmart in Macon.

In total, 73 layaway accounts were paid off.

Kmart softlines store manager Deborah Durham said she helps choose which layaway accounts will get paid off by making sure only toys and kids clothing are eligible.

“We had one lady that straight out cried because that was the only thing her child was going to get for Christmas,” Durham said. “She had explained (to her son) that she just got her job two days before Christmas and that they would celebrate their Christmas in January. ... I didn’t know it, but I paid it off and I called her and that’s the story she gave me.”

Those headed to pay off their layaway items will receive a card signed by the Layaway Santa group that reads: “These toys have been paid in full by a small group of people looking to spread the spirit of Christmas across Middle Georgia! We hope you and your family enjoy a happy and festive Christmas!”

The group is made up of Tsavatewa and Lee Greenway, who both work at Middle Georgia State University; John Roberts, who works for the Macon-based Atlantic Sun Conference; and Chris Floore, the spokesman for Macon-Bibb County government; Mindy Hart of Gateway Macon; Kristyn Boothe of Spectra and Robert Fisher of Mama Honey’s.

“We all remember having really great Christmases growing up, and we want to do anything we can to help other families around the midstate, and their kids, to have the Christmases we had growing up,” Greenway said. “We’ve been blown away by the generosity of people in the midstate.”

Laura Corley: 478-744-4334, @Lauraecor

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