Sandra Sells Social Scoop by the Safeway

SEATTLE — You may have seen Sandra standing diminutively off to the side of the automatic doors calling softly, “Real Change. Would you folks like to buy a Real Change?”as shoppers pass in and out off the Safeway on 15th and John. Or, if you shop during the day, maybe you haven’t seen her. 

A self-proclaimed night owl, Sandra usually haunts the Capitol Hill Safeway in the late evening when other vendors with 300 and 600 club standing at Real Change do not have priority. The 300 club and 600 club are part of Real Change’s turf system that allows vendors who sell 300 papers a month in a certain location rights to that location for half the day, while those who sell 600 papers a month get the rights to their location all day. “I’ve been selling papers for 2 years and I can’t seem to get that high,” Sandra laughs, without mirth.

Bundled up in a heavy down jacket with a knitted hat pulled snugly over her frizzy hair, Sandra shifts her body in the cold as she calls out to shoppers, the bold logo of the Real Change newspaper displayed prominently against her chest.  

After buying Real Change newspapers every Wednesday for 35 cents then selling them for $1, Sandra sells enough papers to profit $50 to $100 a week. That is approximately 77 to 154 papers sold a week. 

If you calculate her maximum total income as $400 per month, then expand that figure to $4,800 a year, divided by a year’s worth of full-time work hours, Sandra makes approximately $2.30 an hour. The living wage in King County is $4.73 at the poverty level. 

Sandra has applied for government financial aid, but so far the process has been difficult. The aid programs will not recognize her disability, which she neglects to disclose, and when asked about the complications of the process, she shakes her head and takes a deep breath as if to say, “I don’t want to get into this topic tonight”. She does think that the some of her difficulties can be attributed to the recent recession making it harder for her and other homeless people to find aid. Although, it has never been an easy process for herin the past. 

She has recently applied for low-income housing, but the waiting list is as long as 3 to 6 months. Luckily, Sandra usually stays with friends, her only support system since her husband died in 1999. “I don’t do shelters,” she says resolutely, “I don’t even want to deal with them”. Shelters are too chaotic and impersonal for Sandra, and she dislikes the early closing time restrictions. “I’m out here selling papers at night,”she explains. For Sandra, this is a necessity. 

Even with her late business hours, Sandra has felt no decrease in the number of Real Change News consumers in light of the recession. In fact, she merrily points out that her customers constantly tell her how much more they enjoy Real Change papers than the Seattle Times or the P-I

Sandra does not read the paper herself, unless “it’s a really good one”. However, one reason Sandra believes Real Change is preferred is because, she says, “I think people like the poems .”

When asked if a really good paper includes really good poems, and if the poems are her favorite section of the paper, Sandra laughs shyly and says, “Oh, I don’t know about that stuff, darlin’”. Perhaps this week’s issue will nourish her closet poetry fiend. 

I recommend picking a up a copy of the Real Change newspaper from Sandra at the Safeway, but I cannot guarantee that she will be there.  A nomad to the core and a seasoned traveler of many U.S. states, Sandra hopes to find a warmer home before the biting cold of winter makes her nightly news business impossible.


Real Change in the Economy

SEATTLE — With the economy in frightening decline, Wall Street in an uproar and WaMu‘s bankruptcy a lingering nightmare, Seattle consumers are a bit more hesitant about where they put their money. For many, this cautious new attitude may involve not only spending less on superfluous items, but donating less to charities, nonprofit organizations or giving to the city’s homeless.

Attempting to ensure a humane lifestyle for Seattle’s homeless and low-income population is the local nonprofit, Real Change. Real Change is a news organization that employs men and women, who might otherwise be begging, as Real Change newspaper vendors. The organization hopes to provide these people with a source of dignified income.

Photo & Text Copyright 2007 Seattle Daily Photo. All rights reserved, including reproduction or republishing.

Photo & Text Copyright 2007 Seattle Daily Photo. All rights reserved, including reproduction or republishing.

Real Change vendors often find a busy site in the city with ample foot traffic to sell their papers. They operate as self-employed investors; buying Real Change papers for 35 cents a piece then selling each copy for $1. “A few vendors make the equivalent of minimum wage . . . but nobody’s getting rich,” says Danina Garcia, Organizing Director at Real Change, “Some vendors can afford inexpensive housing with their sales, though most vendors who become housed are using Real Change to supplement government benefits or a pension.”

Because vendors invest in Real Change in hopes of making a profit, if passers by do not purchase the paper, the vendors face the losses. Now, for many people in this time of economical crisis, “supporting their Real Change vendor is one of the last things to go on the list of ‘luxury’ charities,”

says Garcia. In fact, Garcia claims that more and more people are becoming vendors instead of customers.

Currently, Real Change is employing 320 vendors, but Garcia expects that number to increase if the government cuts spending on social service programs. Such a cut would limit the general amount of resources for Seattle’s homeless population, and increase the need for supplementary income.

As part of their effort to promote humane living for the impoverished, Real Change also tries to put vendors in contact with shelters, treatment centers, and further employment. However, these facilities “are overwhelmed,” says Garcia, “and have waiting lists of months, if not years.”

If shorted of funding, the waiting lists for these services will lengthen, and the care that people need will be postponed.

Despite the economic situation, Garcia has a positive outlook concerning the future of Real Change itself. She says the paper’s printing and advertisement costs pay for themselves and, even though the organization is 60 percent funded by private donors, these donors will not cut off funding. “We traditionally ride through recessions because of the intense loyalty of our base,” she explains. “However, like every nonprofit, we’re feeling the pinch of the worst economic downturn in a generation, and being careful about where we put our resources.”

Exactly how careful Real Change will have to be about its choices is not yet clear in this stage of the economic turmoil. However, Garcia trusts in the loyalty of the organization’s donors, supporters and Real Change customers to keep employing and providing for the needs of Seattle’s low-income people.

To see the 2007 Annual Report of Real Change activities and vendor demographic, click HERE.