To kids from 1 to 92: Destin Wal-Mart's gift tree remembers area seniors

Savannah Vasquez
The Senior Santa Tree is up in Destin Wal-Mart until Dec. 15.

In the front entrance of the Destin Wal-Mart a white tree stands with printed cards calling for shoppers to adopt someone in need and bring Christmas cheer through a simple gift. However, the gift requests on this tree might look unusual to the typical items of toys and games as this is the Senior Santa Tree and the tags represent residents of area nursing homes.

“The people we are collecting for have no family or have family far away and haven’t had a visitor all year,” said Alice Duncan, a local resident helping with the senior tree. “There are so many organizations that target the children and the seniors are just forgotten. They are all alone and it breaks my heart.”

As for the gift requests, Duncan said the items are affordable and the residents are quite modest.

“Some of them are so simple,” she said. “I had one guy that just wanted a plaid shirt, an oatmeal cream pie and some Cokes.”

The idea for the Senior Santa Tree began five years ago with a Holt 10-year-old girl who had a heart for senior citizens.

“It started out with a little girl named Railey, she started it five years ago when her grandmother was in a nursing home,” said Duncan. “She actually lost her grandmother last year, but she continues to do this for the nursing homes.”

When asked what originally sparked the idea for a Senior Santa Tree, Railey Holland said her heart just broke for lonely elders.

“My great grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had to live in a nursing home,” she said. “When I was visiting her I saw people there that didn’t have anyone to visit them. They where getting old and going back to the toddler stage, many of them because of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I thought. ‘There are so many things focusing on kids at Christmas, but we need to think about them too.’”

What started out with gifts for about 30 residents at her great grandmother’s nursing home has grown over the years.

“Some years we are giving gifts to 200 to 500 people at the max,” said Railey. “When we get extra gifts we take them to other nursing homes but every year it changes.”

This year, the Destin tree has been well received. Starting with 56 seniors, the tree only has 11 cards left. The group is actively looking for more seniors to add but Duncan said, besides specific gift requests, nursing homes welcome toiletries and clothing items year round.

“Some of these people come in and they are court-ordered and they come in with just the clothes on their backs,” she said. “The tags on the tree are specific residents, but if you want to buy toiletries we put them in their bags. Everybody gets a lotion, lip balm, and sweet treat or sugar free treat for diabetics.”

The nursing homes involved in this year’s Senior Santa Tree include; Crestview Rehabilitation Center, Carrington Manor Retirement and Assistant Living Facility, Twin Cities Pavilion Assisted Living Facility and Crestview Manor.

Visit the Destin Wal-Mart to adopt a senior and drop off donations at the customer service desk or at Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate office located in Destin at 4458 legendary drive suite 100. Donations must be brought in by Weds. Dec 16 at 12 p.m.

Follow Railey’s ongoing project on Facebook by searching; Railey’s Annual Birthday Project/ Remembering Our Elderly in Nursing Homes.