A 15-year-old Baker High School student has been collecting Christmas gifts for hundreds of area seniors for six years in honor of her birthday.
This Christmas, dozens of senior citizens across Northwest Florida could celebrate the holiday alone. They live in assisted living homes and most of them don’t have enough money to purchase presents, even for themselves.
But Railey Conner wants to change that. Through her Senior Santa Tree project, the Holt 15-year-old has been providing area seniors with Christmas gifts for six years.
“My mom and I were driving my grandma to church, and I wondered who drove all the other grandmas and grandpas to church,” Conner said. “It was around Christmas, so I decided that’s what I wanted to do for my birthday (Dec. 15) — give people like that a Christmas.”
That idea came about six years ago, when Conner was 11. Today and every year since then, Conner has provided area seniors with Christmas gifts and other presents and supplies to last them throughout the year. In Destin, she partners with the Walmart at 15017 Emerald Coast Parkway to set up Senior Santa Trees in their store. The tree is adorned with cards representing seniors from local assisted living homes, and includes a Christmas wish list that contains everything from clothing to food and toiletries.
Alice Duncan, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Destin, partnered with Conner two years ago to bring her organization to Destin and the southern part of Okaloosa County.
She said she started off with 84 names on the Destin Walmart tree this year and was left with 24 as of Monday, but more names have been submitted since then and even more are expected to be added going forward.
“These are people that have just fallen through the cracks,” Duncan said. “They don’t have any family. A lot of them, after they pay their bills, don’t have any more than $30 to live off of for the month. These are the people that are forgotten about.”
That’s exactly why Conner started her charity — to remember the people that are forgotten about.
“I think it shows them that they’re not forgotten about in our communities,” Conner said. “There are still people out there that are willing to spend their time to make them happy.”
The deadline for purchasing gifts at the Destin Walmart is next Wednesday, Dec. 14. Once purchased, the gifts can be either dropped off at the Walmart customer service desk or at the front desk at the Coldwell Banker real estate office, which is located at 4458 Legendary Drive.
The gifts will be delivered to residents of Crestview Rehabilitation Center, Destin Healthcare, Carrington Manor Retirement and Assisted Living Facility, Twin Cities Pavillion Assisted Living Facility and Crestview Manor.
For more information about Conner and the Senior Santa Tree, visit www.facebook.com/Raileys12thBirthdayProject.