Chuck C. holds vendor badge number 0002. For a frame of reference, The Contributor trained its 3,472nd vendor as this article went to press.
Chuck has been selling The Contributor for nearly 12 years. He remembers when it printed once every other month, just 2,000 copies distributed among six or so vendors (now we’re at between eight and 10 thousand per bi-weekly issue). He is very nostalgic about it all — and even went so far as to get a small “C” and torch from The Contributor logo tattooed on his left forearm. He chose to have his photo taken at the site of a long-gone public bench, where meetings for The Contributor used to be held. Chuck has a full-time job and an associate degree and doesn’t sell papers very often now, but he finds reasons to stick around.
Can you first tell me the story of how you ended up becoming a vendor for The Contributor?
It was right after I got into housing, Ray Ponce de Leon, the very first vendor, number 0001, told me that idea. I had been working through agencies and finishing up my time with the Kroger company, and he persuaded me to come down. I was skeptical at first because [I had] never actually heard of a street paper. At first it was very slow, people were skeptical. Businesses were skeptical about whether or not it was legitimate. Larger cities like Chicago were doing it before, but it was something that had never happened here. Ray is the one that got me to come to the first organizational meeting right in the living room of the church.
It’s been about 12 years since then, and you were telling me about some of the things you’ve accomplished in that time.
I finished my time with Kroger, which I had started when I was 17. I did enough time to start drawing a pension, which I did at age 55. I went back to school and got an associate in clinical medical assisting from Daymar College, and went on to get nationally certified as a clinical medical assistant and have been working in hotel and hospitality-related fields. I’m hoping to break into something medical soon.
Do you still get a chance to sell papers?
I do, occasionally. I’ve been at the site of my old high school, where Father Ryan High School was, at 23rd and Elliston, by the Nama sushi restaurant on the corner. I sell maybe a day or two, maybe four days a month — enough to keep my badge going. There have been some people that I have run into and have gotten to know me over the years and like to get a paper, to know what’s going on, especially transitioning from the newspaper to the magazine and then back to the newspaper. I kind of keep some people abreast of what’s going on.
Now that you have your degree do you think you’ll stick with keeping your badge up like you have been?
And why is that important to you?
I just think it’s something they can recognize and maybe kind of be an inspiration to people that hey, this guy has been doing it since the beginning and he’s still doing it. I take this from a country music star that’s deceased, Tammy Wynette. The late Tammy Wynette kept her beautician’s license up until the time she died because she never knew when her voice was going to play out. So I’m holding on to this badge in case something [happens] otherwise. It’s also good for people to see, wow, this thing’s been going for that long when you look at the number. I have no idea the number of vendors now... If nothing else, for nostalgia and extra income between paychecks. You never know when you might need it.
Tell me why you wanted to get into the medical field. Is that something you’ve always been interested in?
No, I was visiting a friend at an assisted living, and as I was leaving I heard a woman screaming and I happened to look and this woman had rolled out of the bed and she was on the floor with no clothes on and the door was open. And there were aides and techs that were saying “she’s not one of my patients.” And that really bothered me, and I said they really need to have some compassionate, caring, conscientious people in health care. Having a medical clinic on our complex at Mercury Courts, I was able to see how a medical clinic like that would work, especially to the marginally poor, the working poor, and the homeless. It seemed like a natural fit for me, and that’s where I did my internship. It’s very important because they serve the underserved there.
Where do you think that compassion comes from for you?
...having been out and witnessed things that you see out on the street that normal people wouldn’t see, and probably how people have been passed up and have been created more or less a number assigned to them rather than being seen as an individual. Having seen that, I think that people need to be treated individually rather than numbers and stereotypes. Having an inside track on things, especially seeing people go months and years without medical treatment, that’s given me a great sense of compassion, for it not necessarily being their fault, but a lot not being available. Especially with the uninsured and the questions with Obamacare, how is somebody going to be able to really treat and understand if they haven’t been there?
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
I’d just like to challenge the community to keep taking the paper, reading the paper and know that their purchase makes a difference and there’s living proof. Hundreds of people, I could say, like myself, that have been given the opportunity to advance based on not only the purchase, but the many benefactors that are silent, that we don’t know about but probably saved the paper at one time. Thanks to the people that are supporting us.
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