Name: Suzanne Washington
Location: Portland, Oregon
Occupation: Nonprofit management for Meals on Wheels People – Portland
Suzanne Washington is a CEO with an innovative mind and an enormous heart. This leader of Meals on Wheels People has helped to feed countless senior citizens and to provide services that are food for the soul.
MOWP’s goal is to keep seniors, and other nutritionally at-risk groups, fed with wholesome food and connected with social support. This non-profit was created in 1969 by three women who rose to the challenge of meeting the needs of the elderly in their neighborhood. In February of 1970, they gathered in the basement of the Lincoln Street Methodist Church and served hot lunches to a dozen older people. Once that meal service was complete, they set out to deliver 14 more meals to other hungry senior citizens.
Today this organization makes and delivers 8,000 meals, five days a week, all from Multnomah Village. Volunteers make the proverbial and literal wheels of the group go, and frail and homebound elderly people are provided with much needed nutrition and connection. Anyone over the age of 60 is able to request a meal and donate what they can towards the cost. Weekend and Holiday meals are also provided to those who have no other source of food or assistance.
Growing up in California, Suzanne started out serving food in a different capacity.
“My first job was working for Jolly’s Beef Burgers. They had 25 cent days and people could order all the burgers and fries they wanted for that price. People would order 25 hamburgers. Those days were crazy and fun!” she recalls.
Although she’s no longer dishing out burgers, Suzanne is contributing to nourishing a much larger community now, and it was a path that came naturally.
“I was the deputy director at a different organization, and we partnered with Meals on Wheels People for many years. When the former executive director was retiring, a recruiter reached out to me and I jumped at the chance to interview. I got the job and I love it. That was just over six years ago, and it is still a pleasure and an honor to work here,” she says.
“The organization gives me a chance to make a difference for older adults each and every day. It also allows for creativity. We can try new things to enhance services to seniors, and make sure they have what they need to make their own choice about living independently or not,” she adds.
Her ingenuity can be seen on full display in the Diner Vancouver initiative that she spearheaded last year. Instead of simply delivering meals, this enterprise seeks to provide a family-type environment for older people to eat, and to have a variety of choices when it comes to what to eat, when to eat, and who to eat with.
“At the diner seniors get catered to in a warm and welcoming place that is intergenerational in nature, has great food, and is supported by the community. It’s a bit like that old show Cheers. Everyone knows their names,” Suzanne explains.
These strange days, it’s even more important for seniors to feel connected. Many are homebound, and even more isolated than they were prior to the pandemic. MOWP has started virtual book groups, volunteer phone calls to offer a friendly chat, and they have made thousands more wellness check calls. They are doing everything in their power to make sure that their participants are nurtured, nourished, and tended to; their organization’s selflessness knows no bounds.
“We had a volunteer who was over 100 years old delivering to people 20 years younger than she was,” she says. “I find inspiration from the work of our staff and volunteers and the amazing generosity of our donors. Their care and compassion is inspiring.”
The current situation has also forced many people into a place of food insecurity, and the demand for nutritious meals has risen during the pandemic. Roughly 3,000 more meals per week are being delivered to families through MOWP’s Meals 4 Kids program, along with the 10,000 more meals each week that are being delivered to the elderly.
Along with these challenges, Suzanne is striving to come up with ways to broaden the access to technology, so that participants feel less alone.
“I’d also like to start a program to help care for seniors’ pets, expand our earned income opportunities and, hopefully, open a second diner!” she adds.
We at Sock It To Me saw an incredible opportunity to do our part as well. We launched our line of masks in July 2020, and we donate one mask to the Meals On Wheels People volunteers when one mask is purchased in our webstore. We have also donated additional masks to reach 10,000 donated in total in order to help their tireless volunteers navigate Covid restrictions and regulations while meeting the rising enrollments in MOWP’s meals and services.
We are honored to work with Suzanne and MOWP, and we encourage everyone out there to read more about their organization and get involved if you can. May it be to volunteer your time, donate a mask through our webstore, or simply to make a phone call to an older person in your life, your effort is contributing to a greater good.
“Find an older person to visit and share time with,” Suzanne suggests. “You’ll never be disappointed.”
For her work with Meals on Wheels People, we at Sock It To Me want you to know that Suzanne Washington is a very Cool Girl!