2014-01-17 / Front Page

Great Person is Helen Vinal

By Tracy Orzel
Contributing Writer

Helen Vinal, the Sentry’s 2013 “Great Person,” with her mother, Beth Vinal. (Tracy Orzel photo) Helen Vinal, the Sentry’s 2013 “Great Person,” with her mother, Beth Vinal. (Tracy Orzel photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – It’s hard to forget Helen Vinal and even harder for Helen to forget other people. Her friendly personality, desire to help others and infectious smile are just some of the reasons Vinal has been voted the Sentry’s 2013 Great Person.

Vinal was nominated for the award by Debi Puffer of South Portland. Puffer first met Helen a few years ago at the Mill Creek Hannaford in South Portland, where Helen bags groceries and collects shopping carts.

“She has a relentless ray-of-sunshine attitude about her, so I’ve just always gravitated toward her when she’s working,” said Puffer, who will often wait in a longer line just to talk to Vinal.

Vinal makes it a point to ask Puffer how her 1-year-old son is every week which, as Puffer puts it, that is “always the way to get to a mom’s heart.”

Lillian Christy, the front end manager at Hannaford, said Vinal naturally connects with customers.

“She has this amazing memory and knows everybody – all of our customers and extended family – and she remembers who belongs with who and how’s this child and that child,” Christy said.

Vinal, who has been a staple at the grocery store for more than a decade, said it’s easy to tell which customers have children or pets by looking at the kinds of items they buy.

“I know all the people,” said Vinal, and it’s easy to see why.

No shrinking violet, the 33-year-old South Portland resident enjoys striking up conversations with strangers.

“She runs into people all over the place. I literally can’t take her anywhere without people knowing her,” said Helen’s mother, Beth Vinal. “We went to Mexico, we saw people. I could take her to Europe and we’d run into people.”

When she isn’t helping customers load groceries into their cars or tracking down items for them, Vinal can usually be found volunteering at the South Portland Community Center. At the center she helps set up for events and ensures the gym and the locker rooms are kept tidy.

Vinal’s penchant for cleanliness can also be seen at home. Ever the good Samaritan, she helps her neighbors by taking out their garbage, getting their mail and shoveling their walkways.

“She keeps the neighborhood spotless,” said Beth Vinal.

In her down time, Vinal enjoys taking line dancing and aerobics classes, going to the movies, bowling, dining out and spending time with her cat, Toby.

“He’s good company and he greets me when I come home from after work,” Vinal said.

As for Helen’s secret to happiness? Smiling.

“If you were having a hard day or weren’t feeling well, you (should) smile,” Vinal said. “Smiling helps.”

Puffer said she’s not the only one who has been personally touched by Vinal’s zest for life.

“Everyone that I see her interacting with comes away looking happier or lighter or pleased,” Puffer said. “So I think that’s the part that’s the unsung greatness of the girl that’s a bagger in Hannaford in South Portland. She makes other people feel happy.”

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