Tony Jeffers says Real Change allows him to see inequity and social injustice in a way few others ever will. “I’ve met billionaires, and I’ve met people so poor they didn’t have shoes, let alone a home,” he explained.
He makes a point to engage with his customers about these issues, talking to them about the paper and his life as a vendor. “Just yesterday, a customer told me she couldn’t understand how anyone could be so cruel as to set fire to a homeless person’s tent and meager possessions,” referring to an article in the Feb. 17 Real Change.
Jeffers has even written articles for the paper, sharing his perspective on local issues and customer feedback about different stories.
Jeffers was born in Oregon and grew up in Washington. He worked in Seattle as a telemarketer from 1998 until 2002, when he met his fiancée, Rosalita, online. They married, and he moved to the Philippines to be with her. He lived there for eight years, trying to find work as an English tutor and farmer, but they struggled to make ends meet.
The couple began relying on friends in the United States for money, and when the economy took a downturn, they became homeless. In 2010, his wife moved back in with her family while Jeffers received a repatriation loan to return to the U.S.
Jeffers was hesitant when he first started selling Real Change in 2011, worried about how he might appear to potential customers. But he found success at a spot downtown on Marion Street in front of the Wells Fargo building. In the morning, he saw commuters from the ferries, who he reports were very generous. “I sure appreciate all their help,” he says.
Jeffers used the money he made selling Real Change to pay off his repatriation loan and send funds to Rosalita. He eventually saved enough money to try living abroad once again, this time in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find work as an English tutor there.
In 2017, Jeffers returned to Seattle and came right back to post up for Real Change downtown. Since COVID-19 hit, he hasn’t sold as many papers but has gotten some large tips.
Jeffers likes selling Real Change because of the independence it gives him. “I decide where, when and how long I stand on my spot,” he said. “Sometimes people ask me what my hours are, and I tell them, ‘Whatever I want them to be.’”
Jeffers hopes to move to the Mariana Islands (a U.S. territory) in the future to teach English. But “to do anything takes money,” he said. He attempted to rally around this new start on GoFundMe; however, he realized a funding campaign’s success has more to do with social media popularity than need, and has since moved on to other efforts.
Jeffers has a degree in graphic arts and design, and is naturally talented, but these skills don’t often lead to jobs or money. He likes to sell person-to-person and has tried Etsy but finds the listing costs eliminate any profit.
He says it’s not practical to do much online because he doesn’t have his own device. He keeps in touch with Rosalita via Facebook using a shared computer at his shelter, but it has a two-hour time limit.
Until he saves enough money to make a move, he’s grateful for the opportunity to make money selling Real Change. “Immediate income,” he calls it. “You’ve got a profit on your first paper.”
Read more in the Mar. 3-9, 2021 issue.