It is nearly one month since the release of the 2014 Hope in Shadows calendar, and already, 150 Official Hope in Shadows calendar vendors are trained, licensed, and working on the streets of Vancouver and North Vancouver.
Each new vendor receives a vendor badge, license, and one free starter calendar, which they sell to customers for $20. After that, vendors buy each calendar for $10 and sell it for $20, keeping the money earned from every sale. The vendors bring the entire Hope in Shadows project together - community, connection, and opportunity.
The nearly 20 orientation sessions we’ve hosted have varied in atmosphere and tone - depending on the personalities in the room, the day, and whether there are more seasoned veterans or folks who are new to the project. But the moment I invariably know that even the toughest or most nervous group of vendors will relax and crack a smile is when, in my slides, I show this photo:
I arrive here when we discuss Hope in Shadows’ two main goals: providing opportunity for vendors, and creating space for people marginalized by poverty to tell stories about their communities. The slide’s title is “sharing what we value in our community".
When this photo appears on screen, I hear laughter: “I know that guy,” “they’re having fun” and “goofy face.”
I see smiles, looks of recognition, nods. This is a community vendors recognize - a community that values fun, connection, and positive relationships.
In a city that longs for connection, we can find it here. I don’t mean here in the physical sense, necessarily, though the DTES is the one neighbourhood in Vancouver I can always count on strangers saying hello. I mean that we can find connection here in our commonalities. The photographs from the Hope in Shadows contest capture values to which we can all relate, but it is the Hope in Shadows Vendors who stand up to share them across the city - who connect us.
A returning vendor said to me yesterday, “I’m an unofficial Ambassador for the Downtown Eastside! I need those fancy consular plates... for my bike.” We shared a laugh about it, but vendors can and do feel proud of their role in creating connections across social boundaries. Many see this as an opportunity not just to make an income, but to connect the city, and share these community stories.
In seizing a rewarding economic opportunity and helping themselves, vendors also help others - they act as "Ambassadors" for marginalized people by sharing commonalities between communities that can seem distant from one another. Hope in Shadows offers an opportunity for low income individuals to earn an income, but also an opportunity for everyone in the city to experience connection between communities, and stand up to share stories that paint a more full and vibrant picture of what it means to experience poverty.
Hope in Shadows and Megaphone’s joint Vendor program offers accessible, rewarding employment. It is an opportunity that every year more than 200 people experiencing poverty take. Working as a Vendor can help someone, “buy healthier food...visit my son and his family...save a little bit of money…improve my housing situation.” Each year, Vendors earn more than $200,000 selling Hope in Shadows calendars and Megaphone Magazine, and have countless conversations that challenge stereotypes of poverty.
We hunger to connect with one another in this city, no matter the rung we occupy on the steep socio-economic ladder. But we can find connection here, in the stories and common values that Vendors stand up to share - so, next time you see an Vendor on the streets, take a moment to buy your 2014 calendar, and have a conversation with an “Ambassador”.
Vendor photo of Peter Thompson and Customer by Matthew Chen, 2013;
"Foolin' Around" by Audrey Hill, Hope in Shadows 2012;
Vendor Dan DeCoste by Matthew Chen, 2013