Congressman Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Nashville, has supported The Contributor from the beginning. At first, he says, he noticed a trickle of vendors selling the paper in the growing city. But now, after almost a decade and six million copies of the paper sold: “You can’t miss The Contributor.”
“On so many corners in Nashville, there’s a vendor,” Cooper said. “Everyone I’ve met has been polite and courteous and friendly, and then you buy the publication and start reading and you realize what good work is being done.”
The paper is likely to be more surprising than any other publication someone might pick up, Cooper says. He finds that each time he buys it, there’s something new or unexpected to find in the pages.
“The creativity in The Contributor is kind of amazing,” Cooper said. “These people have had wildly different life experiences.”
While he admits he can’t help but buy more than one copy of the paper, he often carries one with him to make sure he’s gotten the most-recent edition.
“I do notice when the issue isn’t new and I’ve already bought one or two and there’s not a new edition and I’ll wave the old one,” Cooper said. “I don’t always buy one at every corner, but I do get more than one pretty often.”
Contributor vendors have become part of everyday life in Nashville over the past few years, Cooper says, adding that he considers buying and selling The Contributor “a big step in the right direction” — for the seller because they’re able to earn money, of course, and for the buyer because they’re able to interact with another human being in need.
“And then we hope there are other steps after that because Nashville is a humane city and a kind place and we need to cherish that tradition,” Cooper said.
One of the most remarkable parts of selling such a large number of papers is that not only were people experiencing homelessness able to earn money to get by, but they were able to try their talents inside the paper, too.
“The Bible says ‘the poor will always be with us,' but America is the land of opportunity and everybody has talents,” Cooper said. “The struggle is to find what people's’ talents are, and The Contributor helps people find their calling. Who knew there were this many poets and fiction writers and nonfiction writers and sometimes artists in the community? These are remarkable human beings and they deserve a break too.”
Cooper puts the paper on par with innovations like Airbnb and Uber. He says charity dinners and breakfasts have gone on for a long time, and are great events and good networking opportunities, but The Contributor has allowed the community to aggregate their charitable impulses, to support someone right in front of them, to confront the harder parts of life.
“I’m so proud of Nashville and The Contributor,” Cooper said. “We’ve played a role in innovating this nationwide. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. It’s proof of the Nashville way – that folks getting creative and helping other people can work.”
He notes that $2 is not as much money as it used to be, but it’s enough to make a difference: There are so many people that will waste that $2 in their pocket. Cooper ponders: “Why not spend it on helping another human being get a better shot at good life?”
Cooper enjoys the impact vendors have on tourists when they come downtown, and says that out-of-town visitors often find a friendly voice and presence at Puckett’s in vendor Ben. He’s unsure where the impulse to force vendors off streets from some politicians comes from, because all of his experiences have been positive, but says, “It is hard to see the homeless or the downtrodden, the folks who’ve had bad breaks in life. Sure, it would be easier to see a well-scrubbed Eagle Scout on every corner, or [a kid] just selling Girl Scout Cookies, but that’s not what life is about. Life has a lot of grit in it, and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad parts of life and try to make things better.”
In Cooper’s experience, his less pleasant experiences buying papers on the street have been with vendors who work for other street papers in town. He tends to seek out Contributor vendors over any of the others.
Vendors’ friendliness helps keep Cooper grounded. He relayed the story of the widow’s mite to parallel the experience: “Generosity of the spirit on the part of folks who have very little is a greater gift that they’re giving than the executive who thinks $2 is nothing and really just don’t want to be bothered or waste five seconds in their day. How they can be more cheerful than the people who are buying their papers is kind of a miracle. Sometimes those that have the least do the most with it. It kind of brings you back down to earth.”
At a time when good behavior is at a premium, Cooper says, it’s refreshing to see The Contributor and its vendors continue to garner support and success in selling papers in Nashville.
“The Contributor sounds like it’s breaking so many benchmarks and it’s incredible,” Cooper said. “I’m glad we’ve embraced it in Nashville. I’m proud that once again Nashville is showing the rest of the country how to behave and what to value.”
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