The relationship between customer and vendor is unique. It’s not a strictly business relationship and it’s not charity. Street papers are one rare way for an individual to create their own support system, whether that’s called community or family. The pandemic threatens to rescind this and move the relationship to one with a power imbalance, which would diminish the vendor in that relationship.
For some vendors, the customer relationship is more of a support model, but for our top sellers, this is their job. They work at it full time. They are well versed in what the paper has to say and they have regular hours at their post. They are independent contractors who are committed to building their business.
During this last year when the vendors couldn’t be out selling the paper, the Real Change organization rallied support in various ways, including with cash gift cards, groceries and lots of essential items. Our amazing donors made this happen.
We created the Vendor Relief Fund and often promote “Venmo your vendor” to maintain and strengthen the relationships between customer and vendor and assist our vendors through the toughest of the pandemic.
We don’t want to become just another charity. Charity is fine and very useful and needed in our society, but what we are supporting is different. We want to use our newspaper as a conduit to support our vendors in building their own communities. We believe that community is how we’ll solve homelessness and isolation for our folks. Real Change, and any other direct service provider, can’t be all to everyone. You know the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”? Well, it takes a community to support those who have experienced poverty, racism, homelessness, addiction, physical and mental health struggles, domestic violence, early childhood trauma, sexism, physical assault and the many other things that our vendors have in their histories.
Charity inherently creates an imbalance of power and a continued neediness for the recipient. Real Change empowers vendors, giving them agency over their day-to-day routines and how to spend their hard-earned money and amplifying their voices through advocacy and journalism. We don’t want to breed dependence on cash, food distribution or convoluted systems. The Venmo Your Vendor campaign showed us that our customers understand this and are amazing and still out there, rooting for their vendors. The support we received that funded our Vendor Relief Fund reminded us that we have the most amazing donors.
But we want to get back to our core — low-barrier work opportunity for individuals. Selling this newspaper is a JOB for more than 100 people — right now, during this pandemic.
When you see your vendor, take a moment to ask them how it’s going, purchase and READ the paper, and know that what you’re doing is not charity. What you’re doing is forging a relationship with another human being, with all the ups and downs that comes with.
Community is what most of us have within our families, but not everyone. Community is what most of us have through our social networks, but not everyone. Community is what most of us have through our jobs, and that’s what we are offering our vendors and customers. Community is where you turn after a long, hard day or when you need guidance. And that is what our vendors are creating for themselves through their job selling this amazing paper.
Read more in the Apr. 7-13, 2021 issue.