Heidi Clifton of Cecily George Photography

Supporter Uses Social Distanced Photo Shoots to Raise Thousands for Meals on Wheels Chicago

July 23, 2020: When the coronavirus took hold of the world in mid-March, Heidi Clifton went into lockdown with her family. Stuck at home with the rest of the world, Clifton quickly developed an idea that would meet this particular moment in history, bringing together her skills and passion with a drive to do tangible good in an unprecedented moment.

Clifton, who owns Cecily George Photography, launched her 19-minute photo sessions, taking portraits of families from a distance in front of their homes. She charged $100 for the session, with all proceeds going toward Meals on Wheels and Meals on Wheels Chicago.

It was an instant success, with families along the Northshore clamoring for a far more relaxed family photo session than usual. Clifton found that combining the charitable aspect with a unique experience brought out a different side in people.

“The attitude overall was night and day,” Clifton said. “No one was worried about being perfect, and everyone was just happy to get their family photo taken. Some people were in pajamas, some in sweats—what I captured was so much more real.”

Clifton has a passion not just for photography, but also for helping seniors, as her grandfather utilized the services provided by Meals on Wheels Chicago before he passed away in 2005.

“Our family always remembered it,” Clifton said. “That’s how he got his meals and the drivers were always so nice…It was a godsend.”

Clifton was able to spread the word about Meals on Wheels Chicago, bringing in more than $7,000 as she directed her clients to donate directly rather than pay her. She was able to bring attention to the cause during a time when the need for meal delivery increased almost immediately. Seniors and their loved ones saw the importance of keeping elderly individuals inside and away from grocery stores that would put them at risk for contracting covid-19.

“I explained more than 3,000 applicants were added [when the pandemic broke out] without any additional funds all while having to cancel fundraisers,” Clifton said. “It was a big deal for people to understand why…It’s the perfect charity during a time that has disrupted the entire planet, because they help seniors at a time when seniors were getting hit the hardest.”

Clifton usually holds around 40-45 family photo sessions over the course of a normal calendar year. This year, she held 60 in March and April alone, sometimes carrying out three photo shoots an hour.

After directing them to the website where they would read about the programs and learn more about the services Meals on Wheels Chicago provides to seniors, Clifton found many families donating even more than the $100 she asked for. Someone even applied to be a Meals on Wheels driver after Clifton took their photo.

Even her kids, Cecily and George, for whom her business is named, got on board after seeing Clifton dedicate herself to the photo sessions during quarantine.

“My kids went and grabbed five dollars after I took their picture,” Clifton said. “They wrote a card that said ‘Thanks for helping the elderly,’ and sent it in the mail to Meals on Wheels Chicago.”

By Anne Bouleanu, Freelance Journalist and MOWC Contributor

The note Heidi's children sent with their donation to Meals on Wheels Chicago