'Hugs are coming back': Toronto woman mounts positive post-pandemic posters, spreading hope and joy

A Toronto woman is sharing positive post-pandemic messages on posters stapled to utility poles and community boards to spark joy.

Kelsey Merkley lives in the east end. Over the past two weeks, she’s been printing posters at home with the sayings, ‘Hugs are coming back,’ ‘High fives too’ and ‘Hot fries are coming back.’

Merkley then hits the pavement with her dog Barkley to put up the posters around the city. There are about 100 in the east end so far.

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A post shared by Kelsey Merkley (née Wiens) (@bella_velo)

“I’m just really excited getting to the end of the pandemic, everyone’s sort of feeling the doldrums and it’s been really tough,” Merkley told CTV News Toronto Monday. “I just thought I would start putting up these signs to bring us some joy or a smile or laughter.”

People have been noticing the posters, posting their joy on social media and sharing it together.

“Absolutely looking forward to stuff and to getting that interaction back. It’s a sign of hope,” Jevon Vandenberg, who lives near Monach Park, said.

“The first one I saw was the ‘Hugs are coming back.’ I thought that was really sweet. I miss hugging people,” Polly Vandenberg, Jevon’s wife, told CTV News Toronto.

Merkley said she’s been fortunate to be able to work from home and has seen the impact of the pandemic on many, including her stepdaughter who misses her grandparents, as well as her family, separated during important family events.

“My brother got married in Alberta about a month ago and we had to watch his wedding over Zoom and I know people have had to go through those big ceremonies and missing that stuff is really hard,” she said. “Not being able to give him a big hug on his special day.”

Merkley said she’s a big fan of high fives and hot fries which led her to expand the messages on the posters from the initial ‘Hugs are coming back.’

“I’m someone who really likes high fives. High fives are also something we haven’t been able to give to our friends playing soccer or the neighbour who did a great job on something,” she said.

“I’m really excited about fresh hot french fries from a restaurant,” she continued, explaining that fries just don’t taste the same after the time it takes for them to be delivered.

Merkely said she was inspired by the wacky poster culture in her area and pointed to one about a missing cat that looked like a raccoon.

She got the idea for the posters shortly after she and her husband received their first vaccines. Then she heard about the U.K’s cuddle recommendations.

“I’m looking forward to when we’re going to be able to get ours out there,” she said, laughing. “I know people message me and say, ‘when are we going to be able to do this? Is it safe? Is it not?’ Just hold on, we’re so close, let’s get through this thing together.”

Merkley is now sharing PDFs with colleagues so they can put up the posters in their neighbourhoods. She plans to keep putting up her posters as long as they keep bringing people joy.