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Christmas came early for a bunch of lucky Walmart customers ... because Tyler Perry just picked up their tabs. Sources close to the situation tell TMZ ... the famous actor and filmmaker wrote a couple big checks to 2 Atlanta area Walmarts Thursday, to cover the cost of outstanding layaway

items that were registered at the stores as of this morning. We're told Perry dropped $178k at one store in ATL and another $256k at a nearby store in Douglasville. All the customers have to do to collect their outstanding items is pay a penny at pickup ... as Tyler just explained in a video about the awesome gesture. Add this to a laundry list of charitable acts by Tyler in 2018 -- including buying an old friend's mom a house and hooking up Geoffrey Owens with an acting gig -- and it's safe to say he's on the nice list.