If you know Norma, you know how much her granddaughter Avani means to her. And if you don’t, make sure to mention it the next time you see her.
“I love when (the customers) ask about my grand-babies,” Norma says, grinning. As she is raising 8-year-old Avani, Norma says she takes pride in trying to give her granddaughter as much of a normal life as possible.
“Taking care of a child these days is an expensive proposition,” Norma says.
When she’s not selling the paper, Norma is with her granddaughter at gymnastics or listening to her practice violin.
Two years ago, Norma gained full custody of Avani. Before she had custody, Norma worked to help and support her daughter and granddaughters.
Currently, Norma is living in an extended stay hotel with Avani. “I love it, because it’s right where I can support me and my granddaughter well,” Norma says.
Norma, who is mobile by wheelchair, loves the convenience of the place. She can wheel over from her selling spot to her hotel in less than five minutes, and, if she needs, she can take a break during the day and get back at it.
But the living arrangements also present some challenges; the “big thing” right now, Norma says, is that she can’t apply for visitation for her youngest granddaughter because she is living without permanent residency in a single bedroom hotel room.
Norma is also concerned about Avani’s school system.
“I want to keep Avani in the school system that understands her circumstances and not have my youngest granddaughter be a postscript to her,” Norma says.
Norma came to sell The Contributor four years ago while she was unemployed, and a friend encouraged her to sign up and sell the paper. Norma admits that she had seen people selling The Contributor, but her own pride stopped her from reaching out.
“So many people are focused on what you can’t do rather than what you can do,” Norma says. “They see the chair, the limp. They assume I can’t do it.”
Since joining The Contributor, Norma has made many lasting relationships with her customers who faithfully support her. Even after changing her sales spot, Norma regularly sees some of her first customers who travel from West End to Hermitage to buy the paper and deliver her Starbucks.
“It’s awesome when your customers know your routine,” Norma says. “They know when you’re missing, and they want to see you. They notice.”
She adds that sometimes she sells her paper for a dollar when that’s what a customers offers.
“I know that someone down the line will come through with a $5, $10 or $20 bill. It all balances itself out. If you’re not greedy out there, people see you’re doing everything you can.”
While Norma agrees to bargain the paper, she is still trying to figure out a way to encourage customers to take the paper after they’ve handed her a $10 or $20 bill.
“I would really like to reach the people who will not take the paper. There are a ton of people out there who won’t take it, and it’s infuriating because they are squashing my pride,” she says.
“To a lot of people, this may not look like work but this is all the work I have.”
The transaction of giving and receiving helps vendors like Norma maintain their dignity and respect.
“This is how I support my granddaughter. Please let me give you something for your money," she says.
Norma knows how important the customers are in this business. The money she makes is hard earned and, “customers should know that their money is going toward something good and decent.
“I just want people to come out and see me, and if possible, get to know me and my grand-babies.” She says. “The Contributor takes the disabled and homeless who have suffered discrimination and gives us the chance to better our lives and those that we come into contact with.”
The exchange between vendors and customers does not lie on monetary gain, but on human interaction and acknowledgment.
“That’s the ultimate win-win. Not only do we get what we need, but hopefully every customer walks away with something as unique as the paper is.”