By Christy Ulmet
Thursday, January 16. It is cold and windy. Julio stands at his usual spot that he’s claimed as his every day for a year now-next to the post office. Yellow tag around his neck, newspapers in hand, he gives a shy smile as cars go by, and people walk in and out of the post office. A man walks up, hands him some change, and Julio hands over a newspaper with a simple, “Thanks, man.”
Every morning, nearly 400 vendors hit the streets of Nashville and its surrounding suburbs to sell “The Contributor,” a newspaper that provides the homeless and formerly homeless with an income.
According to the newspaper’s website, “The Contributor” “provides a diversity of perspectives and information on the condition of homelessness while highlighting the contributions of homeless and formerly homeless individuals”.
Vendors are encouraged to submit their works, such as stories and poems, to the newspaper so that they can have a voice and get their works published.
When a new issue comes out, vendors buy the newspapers at the main office for $.25 apiece, and then sell them for $1, giving them a $.75 profit.
Beginning in April, though, the twice-monthly newspaper’s customers will see a price change. Vendors will pay $.75 to buy the papers, and the papers will be sold for a minimum of $2, plus any additional tips customers may give. This will leave the vendors with a profit of $.125 as opposed to the original $.75. The only money received from newspaper sales is the cost that the vendors pay to buy each newspaper from the office.
Customers will also see a fresh paper each week, in hopes that they will stay interested in the content of the paper and continue to purchase it.
“We’ve outgrown our old sales model that we stuck to for six years. This new model comes at a time when we need more funds,” Tasha Lemley, Founding Executive Director of “The Contributor,” said. “We’re hoping the weekly publication and the increased cost to the customer will offset any strain that they may feel from the greater cost from us.”
The price increase of the soon to be weekly paper comes as a result of the decrease of funds available to keep the paper running. “The Contributor” has always relied heavily on personal donations to the office, as they are a nonprofit organization.
To raise money, the nonprofit launched a fundraising campaign called The High Five Campaign, in which customers are urged to give gifts of $5, $50, $500 or $5,000 in order to help keep the paper running.
On the back of each newspaper is a handprint advertising the campaign with one simple goal at the bottom in small letters: Less homelessness in 2014. Keeping “The Contributor” running is vital for the vendors, as it is their source of income.
For Ronald Johnson, a man who’s been selling “The Contributor” for a year now, the paper means more than just a job to pass time.
“It helps me survive,” said Johnson.
For more information about “The Contributor,” or to donate, visit http://www.thecontributor.org.
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 TrevEchoes.