Local man plays Secret Santa and pays nearly $30,000 worth of layaways for military families

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - In the customer service area of the Oceana Navy Exchange, a man dressed in a black polo, black pants and black sneakers moved back and forth between two cash registers. He did this about 120 times, each time swiping his credit card and paying for a holiday layaway. The grand total came to nearly $30,000.

"Each one they have to do separately. It's exciting!" said Luke Hillier with a big smile on his face.

Hillier, a local businessman, has been known for donating his time and money. In 2017, he flew to provide relief for Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Since the Oceana Navy Exchange needed to do each transaction individually, Hillier was in the store for a few hours, which made it possible for him to bump into customers who came in to pay their layaway.

Related: Girls Scouts hand out free holiday treats to military members at Norfolk International Airport 

"To have a random stranger do that for me... oh my gosh. My heart is beating out of my chest right now," said Tremaine Burke.

Burke came in to pay for two layaways; one of them belonged to her husband she was trying to secretly pay. She sent her husband out of the customer service area and pulled out her credit card. Then, Hillier surprised her by saying he was going to pay her layaway.

"It feels really good to give back to the men and women who serve our country," said Hillier. "To see their faces, to see the tears in their eyes brought a lot of joy to me."

Celsa Rucker walked into the store feeling stressed, but she walked out with gratitude.

Related: Community sponsors Secret Santa for more than 200 children in Chesapeake 

"Merry Christmas! I'm paying your layaway," said Hillier as he walked toward Rucker with his arms open.

"That guy is like an angel. I'm just so overwhelmed so surprised because this is the first time like somebody's paying for my stuff at the store," said Rucker.

Rucker explained how she previously added a gold bracelet to her layaway as a gift to herself.

"I was thinking about returning it today, too," said Rucker, thinking she couldn't afford it.

Before she could take it off her list, Hillier paid her layaway.

"It's going to be like a remembrance from Mr. Hillier," said Rucker.

For Hillier, being able to gift military families things they actually want and couldn't afford was a gift in itself.

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