CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) -- Hundreds of people got an early Christmas gift this year after one man paid for thousands of dollars in layaways.
The founder of Jimmy John's, Jimmy Liautaud, wrote checks for about $80,000 to the Walmart stores in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy. The money covered every single layaway item they had.
Liautaud says he was inspired to do this because people he knows, like Kid Rock and Tyler Perry, did the same thing in the past week. So he thought why not give back to his community here in central Illinois.
Customers couldn't have been more surprised when they were greeted with an unexpected holiday surprise. Stella Barrera says, "I'm happy. These are tears of happiness right now."
Walmart shelves are stacked with layaway items. But this year, customers didn't have pay a dime for any of it. Liautaud paid off 330 customers layaways, totaling about $80,000.
Tanesha Blissit says, "I could not believe it." She had almost $1,000 worth. She says, "Every year when they start the layaways we go pick out the kids toys." But now her bill is zero.
Liautaud says he did it to spread the love and joy of Christmas. It came at just the right time.
Champaign Walmart store manager Darin Tevebaugh says, "Just so happens today was the last cancelation day for layaways." If people didn't pay for and pick up their things, it would all be put back on the shelves.
Walmart employees like Stella Barrera have been seeing the rush of customers coming in to get their holiday gifts. But there's something Liautaud didn't know when he decided to give this money. Last week Barrera put eight bikes on layaway to give away.
She says, "When I got paid on Thursday I was going to pay for the bikes out of my paycheck." Now she won't have to.
Barrera says, "I know the feeling of struggling and I know the feeling of seeing my kids happy when they got presents when they were little. So I wanted to give back and help a kid that would enjoy these bikes too."
This generosity continued for Blissit as well. She says, "There's somebody out there who needs it more than I do. I want to pay it forward." With the $1000 she saved, she's donating $300 of it to WCIA's "Toys for Tots" campaign. In a time when money is tight, what better way to say Merry Christmas than the gift of giving.
Even though Monday was the layaway deadline, the Walmart stores will hold all the customers' items who had their layaways paid off by this donation until they can pick them up.