Gateway: Living

A 17th birthday party where presents have deeper meaning

Chanel Mortimer, left, a 17-year-old who chose to have her birthday gifts translated into food for the needy, hands some tomatoes to Laura Condon, executive director of the Red Barn Youth Center near Key Center.
Chanel Mortimer, left, a 17-year-old who chose to have her birthday gifts translated into food for the needy, hands some tomatoes to Laura Condon, executive director of the Red Barn Youth Center near Key Center. Special to the Gateway

A few weeks ago, I was alerted to the generous activities of a young lady whose story needs telling.

She is Chanel Mortimer, who explained, “As I prepared for my 17th birthday party, I tried to think about what gifts I might want to ask my family to get me, but I ran into a bit of a dilemma. I couldn’t think of anything I needed or wanted for my birthday, and I realized that I have everything I need. I have a house, a loving family, good friends, and never have had to go without a meal because of a lack of food.”

With this, Mortimer had my undivided attention. We arranged to get-together — with a family escort — to get better acquainted and to photographically record her deeds.

“I decided I wanted to do something different for my birthday, something that would help out the community,” she said. “I knew there were a lot of ways I could go about doing this, so it took me a while to figure out what exactly it was I wanted to ask party guests to do.”

Mortimer finally decided to ask guests to bring monetary or food donations for local food banks to her party instead of gifts.

“Hunger is a real problem in Washington state and it is an important issue to me, because I don’t think anyone should have to go hungry,” Mortimer said.

The teenager’s party guests responded very well. By the end of it all, she had three cases of food and $157 to donate.

“I decided to donate the money to Northwest Harvest, a food bank helping to end hunger throughout the whole state,” she said. “I wanted to donate the food to a more local food bank and a family friend suggested the Key Peninsula Bischoff Food Bank because it provides food to families in the Key Peninsula and surrounding areas, including a new after school program called the Red Barn (see the Aug. 12 edition of The Gateway).”

Mortimer is in the Running Start Program at Tacoma Community College and plans, eventually, to obtain a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

“This has been my favorite birthday gift I’ve ever received,” she said. “It made me feel independent, grown-up, and like I could make a difference. I can honestly say that it has blessed me as much at least as it blessed the community. I love helping people because it makes me feel accomplished and like I have a purpose in life.

Mortimer has been blessed with the opportunity to go on multiple mission trips with my family over the years. One thing she said she learned on those trips is that often the people with the least things are the most generous.

“Seeing someone who can barely afford to feed their family give generously to their community has taught me that I can spare a lot of things, especially something as trivial as birthday presents,” she said.

The teenager admitted that when she decided to do this, she didn’t think it would attract any public attention. But since it has, she wants it to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in Washington.

“Everyone can donate something, be it time, contacts, influence, or money,” Mortimer said. “Teenagers and children aren’t excluded, either. We can make just as much of a difference as our adult counterparts. We just have to be willing.”

How very reassuring.

Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at hmcmnp1000@centurytel.net.

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