Toddler’s friendship with Publix grocer goes viral, inspires charity

Adorable friendship on aisle 3.

March 29, 2022, 12:17 PM

After one little girl's adorable friendship first went viral in the aisles of a Publix Super Market, her mom was inspired to share their story to encourage others to embrace and amplify life's positive moments and influences.

Rachel Smith told "Good Morning America" she has been going to the same Fort Myers, Florida grocery store every Saturday since before her daughter Fiona Malone was born and that "there was always such a culture of kindness."

The store became home to one of her now six-year-old daughter's favorite people -- Gilnet the grocer -- who Fiona lovingly refers to as "high five."

PHOTO: Fiona Smith received her first bike as a surprise gift for her third birthday from a Publix employee and friend.
Fiona Smith received her first bike as a surprise gift for her third birthday from a Publix employee and friend.
Rachel Smith

"From the moment I first brought her to the store, Gilnet was always excited to see her. I noticed her beginning to recognize him, and then eventually going out of her way to look for him," Smith said. "One of their first interactions was him trying to teach her a high five. For a while, she couldn't pick it up. But then one day, she figured it out. Then she started referring to him as 'High Five.' We'd show up at the store, and she'd sputter out an excited, 'hi fi' and tear off looking for him."

On Fiona's third birthday, March 8, 2019, Smith said Gilnet -- who lived in the neighborhood as her parents -- "purchased a present for her and delivered it to them on her birthday weekend, explaining that he hoped he wasn't overstepping."

"It was wrapped up in a box, so we didn't have a clue what it was until they brought it over to my house on her birthday," Smith recalled. "[Fiona] eagerly ripped it open and realized it was her very first bicycle. She loved it so much and wanted to say thanks to him by giving him some pictures of her riding it."

Fiona and her mom paid him a visit at work to hand-deliver the thank you card and a big hug.

"She calls him 'High Five' because they always share a high five," her mom explained. "He's priceless to us."

Like so many of life's little moments that people lost out on during the pandemic, Smith said they "regretfully had to take a break in our regular visits when COVID hit" and that "during that time, he transferred stores."

"I was finally able to track down his new location and I'm bringing her there today to say hello again to her dear friend," she told "GMA," adding that Fiona "hasn’t stopped talking about it since I told her on Friday."

Smith also shared his sweet act of kindness and friendship on Instagram and TikTok which prompted repeated replies from her followers asking how they could donate to the Publix employee. She set up a GoFundMe, writing on the page "I’d love to give something tangible back to him for the joy he’s given my daughter her whole life."

Within three days, the $5,000 goal has already been surpassed by over $400. She plans to reveal the news to him later today.

"I also want to surprise him by letting him know that he's inspired so many people to share stories of their own 'High Fives' who were formidable influences on them and their children," she said. "I'm building out a small charity called 'Who's Your High Five' where people can submit stories about people who've positively impacted their lives the way he's positively impacted ours."