Santa's elves have a surprise in store for dozens of unsuspecting Middle Georgia families.
Two days before Christmas, some families will show up at local big-box retail stores to pay for layaway items, only to discover that their bills have already been paid.
For the third straight year, a group of four young professionals who make up the Middle Georgia Layaway Santa group is working to raise money to help families struggling to pay for Christmas presents.
"We don't know who we're giving to," group member Chris Tsavatewa said. "We don't look at the names of people on the list. We have (retail managers) look at the list for us ... and make sure it has a significant number of toys."
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.
After raising $1,000 to help more than 40 families for two consecutive years, Tsavatewa said the group increased its goal, and donors have been very responsive. Less than a week after opening an account on the popular crowd-funding site gofundme.com, Middle Georgia Layaway Santa has raised a little more than half of its $2,500 goal.
"I think that we're being a lot more aggressive in our social media (campaigns) and also massaging our network of friends and making them aware this is a local effort," Tsavatewa said. "These are local guys who've recognized a need and want to bring a little Christmas cheer to those who may not have expected it."
Of the 26 people who had donated online as of Monday, most chose not to disclose their names.
"It's really fun to be anonymous," Tsavatewa said. "You know in your heart that ... you're doing it (for) an altruistic reason, and you're not doing it because you want people to know who you are. Everybody's means are different. What's a $25 gift could really be substantial from a discretionary income compared to someone else's $250."
Online donating will end at noon on Dec. 23, and the group will visit several predetermined retail stores in Middle Georgia to pay off as many layaway accounts as possible.
Should Middle Georgia Layaway Santa raise more than its goal, the money will go to "the many charities in the area that support children at Christmas," Tsavatewa said.
Roses discount store on Shurling Drive is one store the group is working with to identify layaway accounts with lots of toys.
Richard Webster, the store's general manager, said that when it comes to volume, layaway is "more up there this year than last year."
"We return a lot to stock because of lack of payment," Webster said, noting that people who anonymously pay for others' layaway purchases has become more common during the past few years. "There is a need."
To donate to Middle Georgia Layaway Santa 2015, visit www.gofundme.com/layawaysanta2015.
To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4334 or follow her on Twitter @Lauraecor.