Michelle Paslay (left) stands with staff at Keizer Ridge after she delivered Christmas presents for the facility's residents. (Courtesy/Michelle Paslay)

When you’re going door to door to collect bottles and cans, you have to look at least a little presentable.

That’s a lesson Michelle Paslay learned while raising funds to buy Christmas presents for cooped up residents at the Village at Keizer Ridge, an assisted living and memory care community.

Paslay, 24, said she’s long felt an affinity with seniors. She worked at a nursing home while finishing up high school in Longview, Washington, putting in long hours, and even missing out on prom. But she recalled being struck by the lessons offered by residents. One bit of advice stuck out: If you are going to work 40 hours a week, make it something you enjoy.

So in October of last year, Paslay started Capital Senior Services, a Salem-based business that took seniors on trips to the beach or casino. Paslay became friends with her clients. She recalled having lunch with clients at the Inn at Spanish Head in Lincoln City overlooking the ocean.

“It was a party,” she said.

Then came the Covid pandemic, which put Paslay’s business on hold.

She kept in touch with her clients, one of whom had to go into memory care, specialized care for seniors with memory issues, at Keizer Ridge. With the high cost of memory care, Paslay realized that many residents couldn’t afford things like soft blankets, jewelry and other niceties. She also realized that many were feeling bored, isolated and fearful.

“They might be in a memory care unit, but they know what’s going on,” she said.

Paslay thought about what it would be like if she was in an assisted living facility and found a present under the tree for her. So last month, she decided to go door to door asking for redeemable bottles and cans that she could cash in to buy presents.

She recalled early on how she knocked on a door wearing a sweatshirt.

“We’re not interested,” was the response.

So Paslay started curling her hair and putting on her nice white sweater and boots before going out. Her husband said she looked like she was going to the prom.

It paid off. She knocked on 600 doors and raised over $1,000 to buy presents. She put together over 20 gift packages for residents. She included non-skid socks and big fluffy blankets. Women residents got either a necklace or earrings. Men got a beard kit with a razor and body wash.

She wrapped up the presents and delivered them last week to Keizer Ridge.

“She just has such a servant’s heart,” Nancy Steers-Christ, the executive director Village at Keizer Ridge, said of Paslay. 

Steers-Christ said that is the first time that someone has done anything on this scale for residents and the presents will be delivered Christmas morning. 

Paslay said in the future she hopes to start a nonprofit to help seniors get to doctor’s appointments and help out around their homes. In the meantime, Christmas for residents at Keizer Ridge will be a little brighter in a challenging time. 

“This is such a blessing for us this year as a result of Michelle’s efforts,” said Steers-Christ. 

CLARIFICATION: Michelle Paslay's maiden name is "McElligott." Her married name is Michelle Paslay.

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 Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.