When Ivy Irving recalled her start with Real Change, she had to blink back a few tears. “I began selling the paper because my husband died. I was grieving, and it turned out that talking with people as I was selling the paper was what really saved me,” she said. Ivy and her husband, Lionel “Moe” Morris, were together for 40 years, married for 33 and regular customers of Real Change, often buying from vendor Robert Sawyer at Safeway on the corner of 22nd and Madison. “We bought from Robert just about once a week. We were real supporters of the paper.”
When Moe died in February 2013, the tremendous loss of her high school sweetheart hit Ivy hard, emotionally and financially. It took her five months to warm up to the notion of selling Real Change. “Robert had been talking to me about it for a while. I had all these bills to pay, and I needed something to support me, more than my SSI.” Deciding to become a vendor, however, wasn’t an obvious choice for her to make.
“Robert’s really the one who convinced me I could do this. He would call me every day and tell me to come to his spot when he was done. When I bought my first ten papers that October, I didn’t think I could even sell them. But then I went to Leschi Market around 6 a.m., and I sold papers like crazy.”
She was formerly a cook at the Knights of Columbus but hadn’t needed a job in years. Working as a vendor granted her the space to socialize with passersby and learn to cope. It made all the difference in her sense of self-worth and happiness. “I didn’t think I’d ever do anything like this, not in a million years. But it was my form of therapy. I would run into people who told me they had also lost their spouse or their children. It was then that I truly enjoyed it. There was this sense of community. And now I can’t even get out of it. I look forward to people talking to me every single day.”
Ivy gets a bit antsy when she’s not selling Real Change, partly because of her loyal customer base. “I don’t like missing even one day.” She laughs and admits, “I’m going crazy not being out there the past three days!”
While satisfying her itch for a good chat, Ivy also sells so she can spoil her 9-year-old grandson, Alonzo. “You know, you want to do for your grandchildren. That’s the biggest reason. It’s for him.” Alonzo often wants to tag along with Ivy — and does his best to convince her to take their family’s Chihuahua, Boots. While Ivy doesn’t take Alonzo or Boots (he’s too much of a yapper, apparently), she says the key to her selling strategy is simply being herself. “I’m just me: I’m a talker. I start talking about everything. Alonzo tells me I talk too much, and I know people are in a hurry, but it seems to work — people keep coming back, at least.”
She’s also quick to note that many passersby need a lesson or two about stereotyping Real Change vendors. It’s become part of her mission to correct the public’s often mistaken views. “I’ve had so many people ask me ‘What drug treatment do you go to?’ and I just shake my head and tell them that not everyone who sells the paper is dealing with addiction or on the streets. I know a lot of older men and women that sell the paper to supplement their income, but many people don’t realize it.” At 60 years old, Ivy doesn’t see herself slowing down anytime soon.
She will admit to one vice, though, and that is her love affair with a certain Seattle brand: “My only addiction is coffee. I’m a Starbucks fan.”
You can find Ivy selling in West Seattle, at the Westwood Village Target — and if she’s not there, she just might be around the corner, outside QFC. She would love to see you and chat with you for a spell.