Florida Toddler's Adorable Friendship with Publix Grocer Inspires Mom to Start Charity

Six-year-old Fiona and Publix employee Gilnet have a bond like no other. 

Fiona and Gilnet
Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Smith

We love an unlikely friendship story, and the one between a young Florida girl and her favorite Publix grocer may be one of our new favorites.

We all have our regular spots—those places we visit every week where we inevitably run into the same people. For Rachel Smith of Fort Myers, Florida, that place was Publix. She visited the same grocery store every Saturday for years, since before her daughter Fiona, now 6, was born. After Fiona came into the picture, she began joining her mom on those Saturday shopping trips. That's where she met her friend Gilnet, who she loving refers to as High Five.

"From the moment I first brought her to the store, Gilnet was always excited to see her," Smith told ABC News. "I noticed her beginning to recognize him, and then eventually going out of her way to look for him. 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."

Fiona and Gilnet
Courtesy of Rachel Smith

Over the years, Fiona and Gilnet shared many happy interactions, both looking forward to their weekly visit and high five. Smith said that Gilnet's presence in her family's life has felt like "nothing short of a gift."

"He's reliably been someone who greeted her with an emphatic smile and made her feel loved and welcomed, even in the most unlikely of places: a produce section of a supermarket," Smith told Southern Living.

On Fiona's 3rd birthday in March of 2019, Gilnet did something truly amazing and gifted the toddler her first bike. Fiona loved her new bike and couldn't wait to hand-deliver a thank you card, photos of her riding the bike, and a big hug to her friend the following week.

Fiona Smith on Bike
Courtesy of Rachel Smith

But more valuable than any physical gift Gilnet could give, Smith said she's thankful to have such a positive role model in her daughter's life.

"To have adults in her life who lead by example: showing joy, spreading kindness, and modeling compassion, has allowed her to continue to develop into a kind and caring child," Smith said. "Gilnet is the embodiment of all of that. Whether giving her a high five or an incredibly gracious gift like a bicycle, he always loved her from a place of altruism."

Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit in 2020, Fiona and Gilnet were forced to stop their weekly visits. During that time, Gilnet transferred stores. On Friday, Smith shared a throwback video on Instagram and TikTok of Fiona visiting Gilnet to thank him for the bike. The video went viral, and soon people were reaching out asking how they could thank Gilnet for his kindness.

Smith decided to create a GoFundMe where people could express their thanks to Gilnet. In just four days, the page has raised nearly $6,000, far surpassing Smith's initial goal of $5,000. "I'd love to give something tangible back to him for the unquantifiable joy he's given my daughter her whole life," Smith wrote on the page.

In addition to the GoFundMe, the special friendship inspired Smith to create a website and charity called Who's Your High Five, where individuals can share stories about everyday people who have changed their lives.

"While Gilnet is an extraordinary human, this is by no means a completely unique situation," Smith said. "So many people have shared their stories of someone like 'High Five' in their lives."

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And as for GIlnet and Fiona's friendship? We're pleased to report that it's as strong as ever. Yesterday the pair was reunited at Gilnet's new store, and even after several years apart, the love they have for each other was just as apparent.

They greeted each other with a big hug, and Fiona confirmed that she did in fact remember Gilnet and that she "loves him." To which Gilnet responded that Fiona is his "best friend."

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