The first vendor to show up to collect her Real Change badge from the Kitsap Rescue Mission in Bremerton goes by the pseudonym of Uno 4 God. An animated woman seemingly in her 30s, Uno 4 God, whose real name is Roseanne, rubbed her hands together in excitement when we counted out her first stack of 10 papers.
“Come to mama,” she said.
Within an hour, five vendors had come in to get their badges and starter papers. Their excitement was palpable. After months of preparation — where we identified a nonprofit to become a satellite distribution site and conducted countless hours of community outreach to social services and businesses — we launched North America’s first satellite distribution site for a street newspaper.
The stories of the vendors who came in while I was at the Kitsap Rescue Mission’s offices that morning were no different than those of our vendors in Seattle. Uno 4 God was selling the paper to supplement her $600 monthly SSI payments that barely cover rent, food and personal items like detergent, but leave her no discretionary income.
“Don’t ask me about buying clothes because that’s not an option,” she said. “The first thing I’m going to do with money I make from the paper is to buy some warm clothes.”
There was Carlo, who has not worked in years, but used to sell Cutco knives and do landscaping. He is confident and already had his game plan: target Fred Meyer rather than a grocery store like Safeway because the layout of the store allows for much greater pedestrian traffic.
On the other end of the confidence spectrum was April, who said she has never had a job and can’t seem to wrap her head around the fact that selling the paper is one.
“People always tell me I’m a failure,” she said several times, “and my sister tried to talk me out of doing this, but I am determined to give it a try.”
Finally, there was Dave. A tall strong man in his 40s, Dave was injured in a bike accident in 2001 and has been receiving disability since, he said. He has ached to go back to work, and when he heard about this opportunity at the Salvation Army, he jumped at the chance. Dave used to sell newspapers in New York City, so he knows what he is doing and he knows that success won’t come easy.
“I am a sponge,” he said. “I can absorb the inevitable rejections.”
Dave and I talked about how store owners and customers often appreciate that vendors have chosen to sell Real Change rather than to panhandle. Aggressive panhandling is an issue in Bremerton. Dave points proudly to his short-cropped hair. “I cleaned myself for this job. … As soon as I get more money, I’m going to get even better clothes so that it’s clear that I’m a professional.”
After spending the morning with vendors, I met with County Commissioner Josh Brown. He’s excited about the opportunity that Real Change presents to the community. He gave me a long list of potential supporters and offered to facilitate introductions: a local pastor who has the ear of the entire religious community, the mayor, local businesses that are community minded and a couple of service agencies with broad reach. Then, as if foreshadowing our long-term vision of expansion throughout the county, he asked if we wanted the names of a couple folks on Bainbridge Island he thinks would be excited about bringing the paper there.
Five or six vendors and some positive feedback does not make a successful launch. But it is a great start. As Tim Harris, our Founding Director, reminded me the night after we launched, “Hey, five or six vendors is a lot more than the two I had when we started in Seattle 19 years ago.”