Angie Brown has been a Real Change vendor for 11 years, and, this year, she’s been chosen by her fellow vendors to be a 2023 Vendor of the Year. Maybe that’s due in part to her caring nature and the easy way she builds relationships.
Brown sells in front of the QFC in Shoreline. Over that time, she’s seen kids go from bumps in bellies to the brink of middle school.
“That’s pretty awesome, to watch that from the beginning on,” Brown said. The relationships she’s built by selling Real Change extend well beyond the sidewalk in front of the store, too. QFC employees treat her like part of the crew, she said, even inviting her along for off-site birthday celebrations and such.
Brown inherited the spot from her sister-in-law, who suggested Real Change when Brown hit a patch of housing instability after her father passed. At first, Brown said, she was pretty shy about selling. That shyness dissipated quickly once QFC patrons started to recognize her.
“They got to see you there for a little while before they come up and maybe want to talk to you,” she said. But once they do, it’s the best.
“I really enjoy it. I mean tremendously, I do,” Brown said, “Everybody’s got a story, right?”
Hearing those stories, especially from elders in the Shoreline area, is one of her favorite things about selling the paper. For similar reasons, her favorite pieces in the paper are vendor profiles. Now, she’s the subject of one.
Brown’s own story in Seattle is a long one, and it starts in Ballard, where she grew up. Her mom was a waitress at the iconic Sunset Bowl, so she spent a lot of her formative years in Seattle’s most-missed bowling alley.
She’s always loved sports, she said, from bowling to basketball. In fact, when she played on the Ballard High School women’s basketball team, she became the first woman player to make a three-point shot in Washington. In the ‘80s, women’s basketball didn’t include three-pointers, but they were added to the game in her sophomore year.
Sadly, Brown can no longer play because of injuries. She has trouble with her back thanks to, she suspects, a roofing gig from her youth. Back then, shingles weren’t hoisted; people just grabbed stacks and hauled them up the ladders by hand. Not great in terms of spinal compression or in terms of continuing to work.
“Because I have some physical issues, I get SSI, but it’s so minimal, right? It’s like the lowest end of it,” she said. Disability payments cover the absolute basics, but, she said, “if I ever want to have a life or go do anything or I need some new clothes or whatever,” she has to rely on Real Change.
While Brown could have very justifiably felt sorry for herself after becoming disabled, she instead chose to channel her energy into taking care of others. First her dad, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
After he passed, Brown moved in with a close friend’s mother, who also had cancer, and stayed there through that woman’s end-of-life process. Not missing a beat, she then moved into her childhood home in Ballard, to help with hospice care for her grandmother. Under Brown’s care, the two weeks doctors gave her grandmother to live turned into 10 months. They celebrated her grandmother’s 89th birthday together and almost her 90th as well.
They say there is no rest for the wicked, but apparently the wonderful don’t get any either. After helping her grandmother pass, Brown shifted to taking care of her sister-in-law, who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I went through that treatment, shaved my head, everything — I was her chemo buddy,” Brown said. That arrangement lasted 19 months and was her last caretaking assignment.
“It’s just been crazy,” she said, reflecting on her life since 2011. But it also came naturally.
“I think I was put on this earth to care for people,” she said, noting that her being on Earth only happened because her own mother was able to overcome a serious illness. “My mom had kidney disease since she was five years old. She wasn’t even supposed to have any kids.”
Before her injury, Brown also worked at Fircrest School, not far from where she now sells the paper. Fircrest is a school for children with developmental disabilities, a group she particularly enjoys working with.
Nowadays, Brown is no longer looking after anyone in particular, but that part of her personality is as prominent as ever.
Real Change field organizer Caroline St. Clair, who nominated Brown for Vendor of the Year, described Brown as “absolutely caring.” St. Clair was particularly impressed with the way Brown has brought new vendors into the fold at Real Change.
“She never just drops anyone off here and says, ‘Okay, enjoy orientation,’ but actively helps them with their sales [and] provides them with a ride here,” St. Clair said.
“I’ve also never seen anybody care so much about their animals, the people around them [and] the people they sell to,” St. Clair added.
Brown, when she’s not selling the paper or helping her fellow vendors, even helps others for fun. Asked what her hobbies are outside of work, she said, after a short detour into a review of the new Barbie movie, that she most enjoys doing free yard work.
“I used to always live in places that had yards, and my grandma and my dad were really into the yard thing, and so I probably picked it up from there,” Brown said. “So when anybody is thinking about doing their yard or stuff, I always offer to go help. Because, to me, that’s my peace.”
All she asks for in compensation is a smile. And that is fundamentally the type of person Brown is, St. Clair said. Brown is, in St. Clair’s words, “Honestly, just a genuine, straight-up caretaker.”
That level of caring — for her pets, her friends, her family, her fellow vendors and her community — is why Real Change is proud to honor Brown as one of the 2023 Vendors of the Year.
Read more of the Oct. 4-10, 2023 issue.