Local photographer spreads message of hope and resilience
By Abigail Thorpe
Kiersten Patterson moved to Sandpoint five years ago come August. She and her husband settled here to raise their family and instantly fell in love with the community. She loves the outdoors, the vibrancy of life and the close-knit community that will do anything for someone in need. “Most of all, I love the unique shops that make this place feel like family,” she says.
So when COVID-19 hit the nation and businesses were forced to shut their doors or reduce hours, Kiersten tried to put herself in their shoes and question how they were really doing. Furthermore, she wanted to know what their message to the Sandpoint community would be, right now, as we weather the uncertainty, financial hardship and social, mental and emotional struggles that come with losing work, closing storefronts and distancing ourselves from the individuals and community that gives us so much life.
“I heard it from the media, but I was like: ‘I wonder what they have to say personally themselves, not only what they’re going through, but what they have to say to their community,’” she says.
She set out with her camera and the goal of bringing a message of positivity to her community. Being in a small town you have a relationship with some of the people, says Kiersten. She started at a place she frequents often: Evans Brothers Coffee.
From there, she continued throughout downtown, stopping at local businesses to take pictures of the owners and employees holding their own messages to the community outside their familiar storefronts. Those that were closed she took pictures of the typed or hand-written notes taped or pinned to front doors. Signs that read: “Closing on March 22nd at 2 until further notice. We hope to be back very soon. Thanks for all the love and support!”, “Take-out only” and “Our staff is on Corona-cation.”
The response from businesses was overwhelmingly positive. Each shared stories that were both heartwarming and heartbreaking. But when asked what they would share with the community, Kiersten saw the light in each person’s eyes change. They wanted to love on their community, to stay here and be open for the people who support them day in and day out. And they shared this message of hope.
“That was really encouraging to me to see the positivity that came from it. That gave me a lot of hope and encouragement,” says Kiersten. When she thought she was finished with her project, more businesses reached out, wanting to share their own message and be a part of the #SandpointStrong movement.
Patterson listened to the struggles each business faced, wondering if they were going to be able to pay rent and keep their doors open, worrying about what was going to happen to their employees. “Above all they were more concerned with people in worse spots than they were,” she recalls.
Panhandle Cone and Coffee put out toilet paper for those in need. Joel’s kept on all of its employees no matter what, knowing each relied on the work for their livelihoods. “Joel would say, ‘Look at this man over here,’ and he’d tell me his story,” says Kiersten. “His heart really is for the people that are hurting worse off than he is. That was the theme time and again: “It’s not about me.”
“You see those kinds of things and you say OK, that’s what's going to see us through,” she adds. It challenged her and her family to ask themselves, “Who is worse off than me, and what can I do?” They wrote notes to teachers, sent care packages to friends and family, and made cookies to give away. “It’s not about us and how we’re doing, it’s about are we still being generous to others,” she says.
Kiersten’s “Sandpoint Speaks Hope” project reached many more than she expected, sending a message of positivity and togetherness that is so needed at this time.
“My goal is, as you are scrolling through social media, to have something positive pop on your feed from a friendly face you may know and love as much as I do,” writes Kiersten on her blog. “I hope you enjoy seeing their messages as much as I do. I hope you can receive it with an open heart and please no judgment about them being open or closed. I hope you can remember them in prayer as you pray throughout your day. I hope we can ALL come to the other side with the least amount of loss as possible. We are in this together.”
You can find the full collection of “Sandpoint Speaks Hope” on Kiersten Patterson’s website: KierstenPatterson.com, instagram: kierstenpattersonphotography, and Facebook: Kiersten Patterson Photography.