The Gift of Comfort

Nov 20, 2023 | Communities, Freeport, Walton & Beyond

LaRae sitting near all the pajamas and blankets donated.

Comfort at Christmas holds its fourth annual pajama and blanket drive

By Wendy Dixon

For children in foster care, the holidays can be a difficult season, during which they can feel lonely, sad and vulnerable at a time that is meant to be a happy occasion.

Freeport teenager LaRae Smith has a community service initiative that provides safe and simple Christmas gifts for such children in need. Through Comfort at Christmas, LaRae collects new pajamas, slippers and blankets for children in Florida’s foster and kinship care system.

Inspiration sparked when LaRae, 11 years old at the time, and her mother, Jenni Smith, who works for DCF (Florida Department of Children and Families), were collecting donated gifts through The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Angel Tree delivers unwrapped gifts to families. The policy of unwrapped gifts is so the parents can ensure the gifts are suitable for the children. “It struck a note with LaRae,” Jenni says. “She started asking a lot of questions, and thinking about what she could do.”

“My favorite things about Christmas are waking up in cozy new PJs,” LaRae says. “It snapped in my consciousness that not everyone lives the same life I do. Providing children with PJs, slippers and blankets is something I could do that was simple and safe.”

Everyone should feel joy on Christmas day, LaRae adds. “But some gifts are triggering to children due to past trauma. So, we provide weighted stuffed animals and blankets as a part of deep pressure therapy, which really works.”

LaRae says the community of Freeport is extremely supportive. “Freeport is a small town where everyone knows everyone, and when there’s something around like my platform, everyone is so supportive,” she says. “Plus, my grandmother’s community, Latitude Margaritaville in Daytona Beach, is also very helpful.”

Comfort at Christmas has grown exponentially over the last few years. Up until Christmas 2022, LaRae has provided nearly 800 children with a small piece of comfort at the holidays. Her initiative has officially expanded outside of the local area, where she is partnering with 20 counties in Florida. “This is all very grassroots and we rely on word of mouth for donations,” says Jenni.

You can donate blankets, pajamas and monetary donations through Dec. 15. Local donations can be made by contacting Jenni below:

Comfort at Christmas Facebook Page
Monetary donations can be made via PayPal at the above email or Venmo at Jenni-Smith39

Comfort at Christmas partners with the following foster organizations:
Neighbor to Family
Purpose One:27
Northwest Florida Health Network

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