Mayoral candidates Mike McGinn and Ed Murray headlined this year’s Real Change Breakfast, Tim Harris gave his usual rousing soapbox speech — this time perched atop an actual soap box — and emcee Rosette Royale outdid himself with a Liberace-inspired display of glamour and glitz. If you were there, however, you know that 2013 Vendors of the Year Willie Jones and Tricia Sullivan stole the show.
In his remarks, Willie gave a powerful tribute to Michael Garcia, Ed McClain, Robert Hansen and all the vendors who have come before him and have since passed on. He acknowledged that his success would never have been possible without theirs. Tricia Sullivan, whose personal testimony brought many to tears, told the audience about the woman who buys a paper from her two to three times per week because she recognizes that, but for a few turns of circumstance, their roles could easily be reversed. She talked about the importance of caring and challenged the mayoral candidates to consider “what would love do?”
Willie and Tricia’s personal stories couldn’t be more different. Willie grew up poor and found Real Change after years of addiction to crack cocaine, living on the streets and serving time in prison. Tricia hails from a middle-class upbringing; she ended up broke and in a shelter after a small business start-up that she’d invested all her money in failed. The contrast of their stories is a powerful reminder that there is no typical homeless person, no monolithic story of poverty.
After the breakfast, someone came up to me and said, “You know, I go to an awful lot of these functions, and what I like about Real Change’s is that it really reflects the personality of the organization.” This was the ultimate compliment. Our vendors are the heart and soul of Real Change, and we work hard to build a breakfast program that honors them.
We raised more than $70,000 on the day of the breakfast, and $102,484 total, including sponsorships and a matching grant. That’s a good chunk of change for an organization with a budget of $1 million. At the same time, grassroots nonprofits such as Real Change don’t do these types of events for the money. In fact, they offer a pretty lousy return on investment when you consider not only the hard cost of putting on the event but also the extensive amount of staff resources that go into planning and preparation.
So why put on this event when there are more efficient ways to raise the money? We do an annual breakfast for the community. The breakfast honors and celebrates our vendors. It creates an opportunity for our diverse community of supporters — allies, donors, readers, volunteers and vendors — to come together. And, it widens this community of supporters. At this year’s breakfast we had 159 first-time donors.
Each of the 481 people who came to the breakfast, including the 30 vendors who attended, is taking an active part in the movement for economic justice. We are grateful for your donations and for your time and solidarity. You provide the fuel that sustains us.
Willie Jones, now in stable housing, is a part-time student at Bellevue College. Tricia Sullivan is now saving money for her next career move and holding fast to her vision of a world without homelessness or inequality. She’s already giving back to Real Change by serving on our Board of Directors. Sharon Jones, last year’s Vendor of the Year and honorary speaker at this year’s breakfast, just finished school and passed a test to be a phlebotomy assistant. These are but three of the shining examples of real change. And you make it possible.