By Dionne Gilbert, Vendor Coordinator
The reminder of how fragile life can be was brought home to us at the VOICE in a personal and painful way last month when we learned a longtime vendor, Manuela Shaw, was ill. During that time, I was also reminded that we still care for and look out for each other when it matters the most. Some of our vendors who are still without homes helped contribute to the fund for Manuela; this warms my heart and leaves me in awe.
They are surviving day to day on what they make vending the paper. Saving for the rainy days, praying for no setbacks or challenges (other than those they face every day). Yet, in their hearts and pockets, they always find words of comfort and encouragement to give to another, who is having a harder time at that moment. Even when they don’t have much to give, they still give what they can. It is in these moments that I take pride in being a part of our little nonprofit and a part of the VOICE. The vendors might not have homes or money, but they have plenty of heart.
They are also very willing to help out on other things as needed. Case in point: our soda booth at the People’s Fair in June. I was very short of volunteers for it and so it was manned by several vendors, our new editor Sarah Harvey, and one of our board members and his lovely daughter. We also had a couple random volunteers from the community: Jan, Lenox, and Burt. Thank you all so much for your help. It was kind of a wash (pun intended), what with the rain and low turnout. What was wonderful was the sense of community, working together and getting to know each other better. Bonds were formed and friendships made.
The VOICE vendor office has also been more active lately as well. We have had several youth groups in to listen to vendors’ stories, learn about the paper, and volunteer. All of us, staff and vendors, enjoy these visits. The vendors who speak with these groups have a way of making the paper and mission come to life. Some of these young people have street papers in their own cities, but many have never heard of them. We depend very much on the community around us to survive, so it is a great feeling to also give back, every chance we get. At the end of the day, it leaves us all with a profound feeling of gratitude for the bigger picture, beyond our personal walls, if you will.
Many of the vendors have known me for the last three years, when I became homeless. They have seen me change, grow, and become what I am now. I still vend occasionally, when I can, so I am always aware of the challenges out there. Not a day goes by that I am not proud of our vendors! I do not always agree with them and that is okay, but I am always very grateful to be a part of it all, even on the rougher days. I still learn something from our vendors every day and I would not trade that for anything else. I believe in the paper and I believe in them. They are trying, and let’s face it: some of us just belong here with the paper. It is our home, of sorts, where we can find the elusive niche for ourselves.
Last month we welcomed a new editor, Sarah Harvey, and this month we welcome a new executive director, Laura Thompson, into the VOICE family. We are excited to be discussing growth and how to better our program and paper even more. They are getting to know some of our vendors and what they would like to see the paper become. Some new vendors are hoping to do more writing for the paper as well, so keep an eye out for their stories and show them the love and support, you, our readers, are so good at!