Every Wednesday morning, when Rose Gascon picks up her newspapers at the Vendor Center at Real Change’s office, she lets staff know that she loves them before she sets off to sell her papers for the week. This year, Gascon has been recognized as Real Change’s Vendor of the Year for her hard work and dedication to her job.
Gascon lived in the Philippines before immigrating to the United States in 2011. When she arrived, she stayed with her family but later found herself unsheltered. Gascon slept outside for three months, an experience she describes as very scary. Gascon now lives in Issaquah and has her own apartment.
Before finding Real Change, Gascon said she was very lonely in the United States, and she didn’t feel connected to people. That shifted once she became a vendor and started selling the newspaper. For Gascon, Real Change is just as much a job as a source for human connection. “When I joined Real Change, I met lots of people already, and I feel happy not to always feel lonely,” Gascon said.
Her customers notice when she is not at her usual spot at the Trader Joe’s in Ballard, and they will ask about her. “The people there are very nice, especially the customers. They even offered me a place to stay,” Gascon said. “I talk to them (customers) nicely as if they were my old friends.”
Gascon works two jobs: selling the newspaper and working inside a store to help supplement her income. Gascon wants people to understand that selling the newspaper is not panhandling, that she is selling an essential item people get to take home and get their news from. “At first I was ashamed,” Gascon said. “But when I tried, I got lots of money here and especially friends. … I got lots of friends.”
Gascon started working for Real Change in 2014 after a friend introduced her to the organization. Her friend, who is also a Real Change vendor, explained that selling Real Change papers is a job and not begging and encouraged Gascon to join.
Life changes during the pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gascon said her sales have been down and she doesn’t sell as many days in the week compared to previous years. She said it’s hard feeling isolated from her customers and friends, but she’s also grateful she hasn’t gotten COVID-19.
Gascon said her brother advised her not to sell her newspaper because he worried about her getting the virus. “My brother is always advising me, ‘Do not go out and sell your newspapers. If you get sick we cannot visit you in the hospital,’” Gascon said. Luckily, Gascon got unemployment checks to tide her over until it was safer for her to interact with the public again and sell her newspapers.
Since coming to the U.S., Gascon feels lucky to have gotten her citizenship and stable housing and maintain good health. “I’m not taking any prescriptions. I take only Aspirin if I feel not so good,” Gascon said.
Before the pandemic, Gascon said she was selling about 120 papers each week; now she sells 70. Gascon got her vaccine, but she still doesn’t hug her customers. She hopes someday things will go back to normal and she can safely embrace them.
She is happy to keep on with Real Change, now seven years on, and says, “Real Change helped me a lot in my life.”
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the Sept. 15-21, 2021 issue.