Meet Heather, a 6’1” lion-hearted Donate Dinner volunteer who has been dedicated to Meals on Wheels People since 2004. Discover her heartfelt journey and passion for service.
If you go to New Season in Nyberg the week leading up to Thanksgiving, don’t be surprised if you see a 6-foot-1-inch lion — and don’t worry: She’s friendly. It’s Meals on Wheels People volunteer Heather Lindsay-Carpenter. She’s been volunteering for our annual Donate Dinner campaign, where we partner with local grocery stores and retailers to offer shoppers an opportunity to donate to MOWP at the register, since 2017.
But her time with Meals on Wheels People dates back to 2004, when she and 10 to 15 of her friends volunteered on Thanksgiving Day making meals and packaging them up for drivers who would deliver them to older adults in the community.
“I didn’t grow up with consistent access to food,” says Heather, who grew up in Florida and moved to the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s. “To think that can happen as you get older is heartbreaking for me.”
It quickly became a tradition: Every year until 2012, when she and her husband moved to Colorado, Heather gathered her friends for a volunteer shift before they partook in their own Friendsgiving. “I don’t have a lot of blood family, so my family are my friends,” Heather says. “Watching my family of friends do something that is meaningful as a group — that’s impactful. When Facebook memories come up around Thanksgiving, I can tell what year it is based on the height of my friends’ kids. We’ve lost a couple of friends — they’ve passed — but we still have those memories.”
When Heather and her husband moved back to Portland in 2017, she signed up to volunteer with Meals on Wheels People again. For 21 years, MOWP has recruited volunteers to help distribute cards to shoppers at local grocery stores and retailers during the five days before Thanksgiving. Volunteers greet customers as they enter a store and hand them a Donate Dinner card that explains how their donation will help Meals on Wheels People provide meals for seniors.
Wearing the lion costume, which Heather acquired during her kindergarten-teaching days, is part for her — “You have to find things that make you happy and bring you joy,” she says. — and part for the shoppers: “People get this really big grilled-cheese grin, and small humans enjoy taking pictures with me.”
More Than Helping
These days, Heather volunteers by herself — she likes meeting new people. Two volunteers staff each shift, which is only two hours and available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at over 25 different locations throughout the greater Portland-Vancouver metro area. Volunteers do not ask for donations or collect money. If customers choose to donate, they simply add the cost of one or more meals to their grocery bill when they check out at the register.
Last year, shoppers donated $325,000, which provided more than 54,000 nutritious meals to older adults throughout the greater Portland-Vancouver metro area. Volunteering for Donate Dinner is good for Heather, too, she says: “It’s an amazingly good feeling. I don’t think people realize volunteering is really about you. You leave with this really good, warm, fuzzy feeling.”
We need 1,500 volunteers to serve as store greeters this year. Heather says Donate Dinner is the perfect opportunity for veteran volunteers and newbies alike: “You don’t have to know how to do anything. It’s not scary, especially if you’re brand new to volunteering. People are accustomed to it. They know someone is going to ask if you want to donate. So what are you waiting for? It’s only a two-hour commitment. It’s such a small amount of time to make a big impact.”
Volunteer This Thanksgiving
Inspired by Heather’s heartwarming journey? You, too, can be a part of this incredible mission. Every Thanksgiving, our community comes together in the spirit of giving, and you can play a pivotal role.
Whether you’ve volunteered before or this is your first time, Donate Dinner is a wonderful opportunity to connect, engage, and make a difference. Two hours of your day can help provide meals and human connection to thousands of older adults in our community. Stand with us, greet with a smile, and help ensure that every older adult who needs one has a warm meal this holiday season.