Walmart turns away layaway donor

Manager cited store privacy policy

HOUSTON - Anonymous donors have been paying off layaway balances for others across the country this holiday season. However, when a Houston woman tried to help strangers at two Houston Walmarts, she was told no.

On Friday, Jennifer LaRue first went to Walmart on Beltway 8 between Beechnut and Bissonnet to pay off a layaway balance for someone she did not even know. The manager refused, so she went to a second Walmart store on Westview near Interstate 10 and Beltway 8. She walked out in tears.

"I was just teary because I felt so awful," she said.

LaRue said her attempt at a good deed ended in an argument between her and the store manager who refused to let her pay another customer's balance anonymously, citing Walmart's privacy policy.

"I said to the manager, 'I really hope on Christmas you think about the kids that don't get their toys because of what you're doing right now,'" she said.

Local 2 contacted Walmart's regional vice president, Todd Manley, who said there is no policy preventing this sort of random act of kindness.

"I was really disappointed that we didn't handle it right," Manley said. "There's no reason we don't support this. It's the customers in Houston taking care of the customers in Houston."

To take care of what became an unnecessarily messy situation, Manley invited LaRue back to the store to accept her $300 donation, which Walmart matched on the spot.

On the receiving end was Joy Pilot, a single mother of four. She had come to Walmart knowing she could only afford to pay for one of the items she had put on layaway when the clerk told her she could take them all.

"It just came at a time that I really needed it," Pilot said. "I had a tossup, you know? Pay the light bill or get these gifts and you know, I just had to get one thing and came here and ended up leaving with everything."

LaRue was just glad that, in the end, she could help.

"Well that's my anonymous angel," said Pilot. "So I just thank you so much from me and my kids. I just thank you greatly."

Manley said Walmart has accepted several anonymous donations in the region since last week, including a $9,500 donation at the League City location, which helped pay off the layaway balances for a slew of customers.

Nationwide, Walmart's layaway program ended Dec. 16, but Manley said he extended it in the Houston area for any customers who said they could pay their balances by Christmas. He said many stores are holding items for customers until Friday.

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