By John Keegan, Toledo Streets
I met Wanda in July of 2016, just a few weeks after I’d joined the Toledo Streets team at the end of the preceding April. I was scrambling to get a grip on just how this street paper thing was working here in Toledo, and Wanda rolled in, interested in giving it a try, too.
I was a little uncomfortable interacting with her, as I had worked with only one other wheeled person and was already hypersensitive to the needs and expectations of the population I’d just signed on to serve. Would she appreciate help opening doors, or was she vehemently opposed to anything that could be interpreted as pity? Was the subject of her disability strictly off-limits, or was she comfortable with it? Fortunately for me, Wanda had no hang-ups about it at all, often making the obvious horrible puns before I had the irreverent chance. She engaged with me and the program fully, and soon became a familiar and welcome face at our weekly business meetings, which she rarely – if ever – misses.
In short order, she became an essential part of the team. For instance, she coordinates sales hours among the vendors who work at the downtown Bureau of Motor Vehicles, as well as at MudHens and Walleye games [minor league baseball, and professional hockey, teams based in Toledo]. She has also cultivated an excellent rapport with staff and customers at Black Kite Coffee. You may run into her there on a weekend.
I’ve found her to be patient, kind, and wise. It’s a rare thing for her to lose her cool under pressure, and on several occasions she diffused vendor conflicts before they were elevated to the need for management to step in to resolve them. She makes my job easier, and for that I am grateful.
A lifelong resident of the Toledo area, she found herself living on the streets after a bad marriage, and spent five years living in shelters. She’s been in her own apartment for four years or so now. “Selling the paper helps to make ends meet, and gets me out of the house. I like meeting new people,” says Wanda.
And meet them she does. Wanda has placed in the top three in sales among all active vendors for the past year, and spent the overwhelming majority of that time sitting near and shoulders above her competition in the first place. The secret to her success? “Make sure you go to work every day, and stick with it – especially through the slow times. Sure, I know I get some pity sales for ‘that poor old lady in the wheelchair,’ but it’s much less frequent than the other vendors think.”
Wanda is an insulin dependent diabetic, a condition which has cost her both of her legs. But if you get to know her, you’d think she never missed a step. She is amazing at getting around in her motorized wheelchair, and frequently attends sporting events (Wanda is a huge Walleye fanatic) and concerts. Earlier this year she was finally fitted with prosthetic legs, and is now working through some health issues and physical therapy to loosen the dependence on her wheel chair. She constantly reminds us of the new boots she intends to purchase for dancing.
While she may need the wheelchair for now as a tool, the wheelchair does not own or define who she is. While her performance alone would be sufficient to place her among those considered for Vendor of the Year, it’s her attitude, resilience, and determination that show our vision: Hope. Community. Change.
When asked about a philosophy she lives by, Wanda’s came down to: “be polite and treat everyone with respect. ‘Thank you’ or ‘God Bless You’ doesn’t cost a thing.”
Read more coverage of #VendorWeek 2019 here.