Assuming rates of coronavirus infection in Washington state continue to decline, we anticipate that our vendors will return to work with Phase 2 of the Safe Start Recovery Plan. By June 1, our projected reopening date, street sales of Real Change will have been suspended for 10 weeks.
While the loss of daily income has been tough on our vendors, not seeing you has been even harder. Needless to say, we’re all eager to get back out on the street.
Real Change is much more than a job. We are a vast network of life-changing human relationships. Each of our vendors is a hub of community, and every time you buy a paper you affirm the humanity of those who often struggle to survive.
At a time when the lives of homeless and low-income people are criminally devalued, Real Change is a countercultural movement that says each and every one of us deserves respect.
Your support of our vendors over the past two months has been beyond inspiring.
When Real Change suspended street sales with the March 23rd stay-at-home order, our first priority was the safety and continued support of our vendors.
We have continued to produce our weekly newspaper, and asked our community to support the vendors through Venmo while you read Real Change online. A list of vendors by location can be found at tinyurl.com/venmovendors.
You responded. Over April, direct support of our vendors through Venmo shot up to nearly $11,000, or roughly four times our typical electronic payments.
For many of our vendors, this alone has been a lifesaver. When I spoke with downtown vendor Addis Michael last week, he expressed awe at the continued support.
“My customers have been pouring out love for me,” he said, “and I’m not even there!”
Even more remarkable has been your swift and generous response to our Vendor Relief Fund. When we met our $50,000 goal in the first week, we raised the bar to $100,000. We quickly reached that goal as well.
Your gifts to the Vendor Relief Fund have meant that each month, we have been able to replace a portion of our vendors’ lost income — based on their average sales — with gift and cash cards ranging from $20 up to $500.
With your help, we have turned our community meeting room (thanks to Zoom, we won’t be needing that for awhile) into a food pantry for our vendors. On Wednesdays, we’re open specifically for food distribution and grocery delivery to vendors who are self-isolating.
Every week, our staff calls through the vendor list to see what they need and how we can help. Beyond the gift and cash cards and groceries, we have assisted vendors with stimulus check and unemployment claims and support for a variety of other needs.
This month, the annual online GiveBIG event offered our community another way to support Real Change. Our goal was to meet the $50,000 match from Wyncote Foundation NW for a total of $100,000. We blew right past that, and raised more than $127,000 from 532 individual donors!
This generous support goes a long way toward replacing about $30,000 a month in lost circulation income, and keeping all of our essential programs — the newspaper, advocacy and vendor program — fully staffed to meet the needs of our vendors.
Later this month, we’ll launch the annual Real Change spring fund drive. Reaching our $100,000 goal is one more step in securing our future during this extremely challenging time.
We know that we can count on your support.
As we look toward June, our highest priority is to keep both our vendors and our community safe as street sales resume.
That means supplying vendors with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and other tools to protect public health. You have made all of this possible.
Because of you, we are confident that the new normal includes Real Change and the caring community that brightens our vendors’ lives. We are deeply grateful for the love you have shown.
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 May 13-19, 2020 issue.