Offer a hand up today.
Support the Vendor Relief Fund.
How do you sell a street paper during a once in a century pandemic? Carefully, and with liberal applications of hand sanitizer. But eventually, you don’t. At least not face-to-face.
We at Real Change are preparing for when physical paper sales must temporarily halt. With your support, we can help our vendors remain whole until better days return.
Last Saturday, the coronavirus hit Real Change where we live. Our building was shut down for decontamination after another office was exposed to the virus. Rather than close, we moved paper sales to a car parked out front.
As I sold papers from my Prius, vendors described how their lives have changed. Longtime vendor Susan Russell said sales are down nearly 40 percent, but hugs are down by 80 percent. That loss of community, she said, is the hardest part.
We’ll get through this. Our community is stronger and more adaptive than any virus, and while we can’t do much right now about the hugs, we can help our vendors survive and thrive.
This week, San Francisco and five California counties issued “shelter in place” orders, which ban non-essential excursions from home. We assume that this next level of intervention is on the way, and that when it arrives, street sales of Real Change will have to cease.
But that doesn’t mean we stop publishing, or that vendors are on their own.
Starting this week, Real Change office hours are limited to weekdays from 8 a.m. to noon. Most of our staff is working from home. The vendor center is being staffed in twos, so that if one staff person is exposed, both members of that team can self-isolate and another pair can step in.
We are set up to remain open for the duration.
While we plan to publish a physical newspaper as long as possible, we are preparing to move the paper online. We encourage readers to support their regular vendors through Venmo, the peer to peer payment app Real Change uses for cashless sales.
Our Venmo account may be found at @Real-Change, and you can support your vendor by specifying their name and vendor ID# in the notes field. If you need help identifying your vendor, click here; you may also call 206-441-3247 x221.
While we’ve already seen a very generous response through increased Venmo sales, we also recognize that this strategy is not enough. Real Change supporters have stepped up to ask, “How can we do more?”
Since our vendors are all self-employed, they are ineligible for unemployment benefits and other forms of government support. We are working to fill that gap in ways that equitably benefit all vendors.
This is why Real Change has created the Vendor Relief Fund. While we are unable to offer direct cash assistance, we can provide gift cards. These will be distributed fairly to help vendors make up for lost income until normal paper sales resume.
Our goal is to raise $50,000 to directly support our vendors by the end of this month. Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy Foundation and another generous donor have already raised $15,000 toward that amount. Please send your check to Real Change at 219 First Ave. S, Ste 220, Seattle, WA 98104, or donate at bit.ly/VendorRelief, and make sure to note that your gift is for the vendor relief fund.
Readers can also support our vendors by donating gift cards directly. For simplicity, we ask that these be in the amount of $20. Vendors can use gift cards from grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and restaurants that offer take-out. You can also donate pre-paid visa gift cards that allow purchases anywhere.
The strength of our community is measured in times like this by what we do to help and protect our most vulnerable. All of us at Real Change are incredibly grateful for the amazing caring that you have already shown.
Love will get us through this. Thank you for all of your support.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace. He can be reached at director (at) realchangenews (dot) org
Read more of the Mar. 18 - 24, 2020 issue.