The people of Fremont know Sabina Lopez for her smile.
The 41-year-old mother of three is a warm presence at the corner of 34th Ave. and Fremont Ave., showing up nearly every day to sell Real Change papers. Lopez, a vendor of four years, has her sales tactic down pat — simple kindness and an infectious laugh.
“I’ve met a lot of people here, and my customers are now my friends,” says Lopez.
A Seattle resident since she was 7 years old, her family moved up from southern California to start a restaurant. Unfortunately, she fell on hard times, struggling with substance abuse, depression and unstable housing. With the high price of rent and competition for affordable housing, Lopez is still working to get a stable, indoor place to stay — but she got sober and manages her depression through the relationships she forged through the Real Change community and with her customers.
It was no surprise, then, when her fellow vendors voted to make Lopez a Vendor of the Year.
“It was totally amazing,” Lopez said. “When I won I was totally excited.”
In the days leading up to the 24th Real Change Annual Breakfast, the organization’s biggest fundraising event of the year, Lopez was nervous. She and fellow Vendor of the Year George Sidwell would have to get up on an elevated podium and speak before hundreds of people. It would be the first time Lopez ever took on a public-speaking gig.
“I’ve got butterflies,” she said before the crowd.
But Lopez had nothing to worry about.
“I have hope in my life,” she told the crowded ballroom. She thanked her customers, one of whom was in the audience, and left the podium to a standing ovation.
“I have hope in my life.”
The theme of this year’s breakfast was mythbusting, using data to prove that many tropes circulating about people experiencing homelessness in Seattle and King County are based on misconceptions born out of racism and classism. But all of the facts in the world fall flat without a human face, a human story with which people can empathize.
Lopez knows this well, and uses her time in Fremont to bust through those stereotypes with smiles.
“You don’t know what they’re out there for,” Lopez said. “Anybody could be homeless at any point in their life. Never judge anybody. Always smile at somebody, always say hello.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Check out the full Sept. 19 - Sept. 25 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.