30,000 Pennies and a Hard Lesson

Tues morning, 10 students from Ellis Elementary visited the Denver VOICE distribution office for a taste of life as a vendor. After suiting up with a bright red vest stocked with 10 free papers, the students received a lesson from two of our vendors, Brian Augustine and Dionne Gilbert, on how to sell the paper.

Students asked if they could beg, but that's against the rules. So is following people and making up stories (one asked if he could tell people he was saving up for a surgery). What they COULD do, at Dionne and Brian's suggestion, was to just say hello! and good morning! and kindly ask if people were interested in buying the paper.

Armed with their new selling techniques and an energy only the youth can exude, we bounded down Champa to the 16th Street Mall and broke up in groups of two or three students.

And people walked by.

And more.

Some said hi.

A few bought the paper (well more than a few, the students sold enough papers to earn $57 which they handed right over to the VOICE!).

But a surprising amount just walked right by, ignoring the cute faces bobbing above a too-big red vinyl vest, smiles big as day, not even fading when a "no thank you" came their way, though there was visible confusion in their eyes when people didn't say a word and just kept walking. One guy yelled at them "I'm poor too!" listening to his iPod as he hurried by.

After 45 minutes of vending, the students were back at the office guzzling water and asking Dionne and Brian about the experience.

The resounding question:

"Why where they so mean?"

Dionne compared it to the students' little siblings, who hide behind their hands playing peek-a-boo. "They think you can't see them, but you can. People are like that when they get older too. They hide behind their cell phones, their suits, their very important conversations and ignore anything that might make them uncomfortable."

At the end, the students proudly handed over a check for the $300 they raised leading a Penny Harvest at their school (see the Penny Harvest blog!), posed for a photo (again, the energy! despite the heat and experience, they were bouncing all around!) and headed onto their next stop, hopefully learning an interesting lesson about the homeless population, observing the people and issues around you, and smiling even when a task becomes more difficult than you initially thought.

See more photos of our day here!