Christmas stockings go on tour: Lanett, LaFayette, Valley and Beulah senior centers celebrate

Published 8:30 am Saturday, December 23, 2023

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LANETT — The annual Christmas Stocking giveaway led by Ray Edwards had a busy week spreading holiday cheer.

The Lanett Senior Center was the first stop on this year’s Christmas stocking tour at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Accompanied by great-grandchildren Gavin Walden, Ady Morgan and Ky Yates, Ray Edwards gave free stockings to 32 seniors who were at the center for their daily congregate meal and sent 51 more to homebound seniors.

Edwards has been doing this for more than 30 years and has never failed to spread lots of joy during this special time of year. 

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“As long as I can remember, it has been in me to be kind and generous to seniors,” he said. “It’s been my passion to try to help seniors in any way I can.”

Each red and white stocking was filled with apples, oranges, peppermint and chocolate candy, hand sanitizer, warm socks, men’s shorts or knit gloves for women.

“I want all of you to enjoy Christmas,” he told the seniors as the great grandchildren were giving a filled stocking to each senior. “It’s so good to be in Lanett today. Sandra Thornton is doing a great job managing the program here. She has all kinds of interesting speakers coming here and she arranges all kinds of fun activities for you to do.”

Edwards said he was impressed by the fitness activities the Lanett seniors are into. Many walk and exercise every day in the nearby James A. Hardy gym.

Thornton led everyone in a prayer of thankfulness for what Edwards does in the Christmas stocking program. 

“Be sure to keep Mr. Edwards and his family in your prayers,” she said.

The second stop on this year’s tour was in LaFayette, where more filled stockings were given to seniors at the LaFayette center later on Wednesday morning.

“Everything costs a little more these days, but I’m so glad I’m able to keep doing this,” Edwards said.

On day two of the annual Christmas stocking distribution, Edwards and his great-grandchildren were joined by Debra Davis, the deputy commissioner of the Alabama Department of Senior Services (ADSS), in making visits to the Beulah Senior Center and Sylvia Word Manor in Valley. On Friday morning, they were making a final stop at the Valley Senior Center.

Over a three-day period, they gave away a total of 400 Christmas stockings to local seniors. Each red and white stocking is filled with all sorts of goodies including such items as apples and oranges, candy, a 2024 wall calendar, a puzzle book and warm socks.

State Representative Debbie Wood, husband Bobby Wood, and granddaughter Katherine Lundy joined Edwards at the Beulah Senior Center where they helped pass out more than 30 of the stockings. They were warmly welcomed by the Beulah seniors, who offered to teach them one of their favorite activities. They call it chicken foot, and it’s a variation of dominoes.

On behalf of the seniors, center manager Carolyn Davis thanked the Edwards entourage for dropping by and being so generous with the Christmas stockings. Debra Davis thanked the Beulah seniors for maintaining an active lifestyle. The Beulah center is in its seventh year and is the only one in the local area that was built with a safe center. This is a room where anyone inside can be safe in the event they are in the path of an oncoming tornado. Safe rooms can keep people safe even if the winds outside reach speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

Debra Davis, who drove to the Beulah Senior Center from Montgomery, said Alabama has a total of 330 such meeting places for the elderly. 

“At the Alabama Department of Senior Services, we are strong advocates for Alabama residents who are 60 years of age and older,” she said. “We commend you for having an outstanding senior program in this community.”

The center is beautifully decorated for the holiday season, and the seniors were in a joyful mood this close to Christmas.

The spirit of the Christmas season was also overflowing at Sylvia Word Manor in Valley. The local gospel group Old Rugged Cross was there to sing some old-time gospel along with many familiar Christmas carols. The group is led by keyboardist Steve Baggett. Wife Jill Baggett sings, Jeff Conway is on the drums, Curtis Jones is on lead guitar and Vic Smith on bass guitar. They entertained a big crowd inside the Sylvia Word community room with everything from “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bells” to “Silent Night” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

Edwards brought stockings for all of Sylvia Word Manor’s 50 residents. 

“I enjoy doing this so much every Christmas season,” he said. “I don’t know how long I can keep doing it, but it has been a blessing to me for more than 30 years now. I really enjoy having my great-grandchildren helping me. I want to thank your complex manager, Tracy Johnson, and service coordinator, Tracy Johnson, for hosting us today. I also want to thank Gayle, Lila and Jacob Daughtrey for helping serve the food at this Christmas party. It’s so good to see your smiling faces.”

Edwards served as a member of the Valley City Council for 28 years. He has served for more than 12 years as the board chairman for the Alabama Department of Senior Services, which conducts the congregate meal programs for senior centers throughout the state.

Edwards has headed up a pilot program to provide weather radios to seniors who are active with senior programs in the local area. He would like for this program to continue statewide. It allows seniors to receive at no cost to them a battery-powered weather radio that alerts them of impending stormy weather that could be coming their way.