Use less, and buy it locally: these are two of the mantras of the movement towards a lower-carbon life. For those who strive for a more local and less consumer-driven Christmas, social enterprise can create a meaningful connection between employees, gift givers, and recipients. In Vancouver’s downtown eastside, an organization called Emerging Hope fuses local, ethical consumption with handcrafted Christmas gifts.
A look in my closet would reveal that I’m a gift-a-holic. Summer thrift store finds and relics from fall craft fairs are secreted away in The Gift Closet, ready for Christmas. I try to temper my obsession with gifts with my desire to buy ethically and to buy less. We have an abundance of material wealth in our society, and often at Christmas I feel overwhelmed by this abundance. Even the children have so much. The elders in our family love to receive gifts, too, but they don’t need “stuff.”
Yet at Christmas we’re called to give, and give again: to charities, as a volunteer, to family. For the past five years, our family has supported a local organization called Emerging Hope, a landscaping company that is also a social enterprise. It’s a simple but innovative concept: hire people who have barriers to employment and link them to the rush for Christmas gifts in a meaningful and beautiful way.
Emerging Hope is located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, the poorest postal code in Canada. The area has an amazing history – it has been a center of the logging industry, a thriving Japan town and China town, and it is now a slowly gentrifying and very diverse cultural and economic community that arcs along the side of Vancouver’s central business and tourist district. The town that is to be the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics is known for its mountains, its oceans and for the variable reputation of the downtown core, as portrayed in television shows like The DaVinci Code.
Into this scene comes the organization Emerging Hope, a social enterprise with a simple, beautiful, and very fragrant mission. For those who are struggling with multiple employment barriers, it can be difficult to find and keep a job. Addiction, mental health, and a history of homelessness all pose challenges to reentering the workforce. There’s a need for detox centers, retraining programs, and so much more. The need can feel overwhelming. While Emerging Hope is a small enterprise, it has become an inspiring example. Every year, the organization provides over 1300 hours of paid work for people on the Downtown Eastside. In the spring, employees make planter boxes. In the fall, they go on an annual Cone Quest to harvest the bounty of the pine trees for Christmas wreathes.
The wreaths from Emerging Hope are large and fragrant and delivered several weeks before Christmas, ready to bestow seasonal scents on those who enter each home. They’re a perfect fusion of nature, art, and ethics, and it’s locally-created, not imported. However, it’s the personal connection with an organization that makes these wreaths special. At Emerging Hope, the creator of the wreath signs her creation, and the wreaths are hand-delivered by volunteers who chat with those who receive the gift. While the wreath may be a way to support local, ethical business, the true gift is the human connection: the heart behind the organization and the participation of its employees and volunteers in recreating a meaningful Christmas.