Real Change Vendor James Sanderson died in December. One of his customers offered this remembrance:
I met James Sanderson in 2012. I was working in downtown Bellevue at the time and he was selling Real Change across from the transit center. I would pass him when I crossed the street to get to my building. I can still see him now with his black-rimmed glasses, signature shorts and the hand-made sign proclaiming “Real Change.” James introduced me to the paper, and I became a fan — a customer first and then a friend.
Over the next couple of years we would stay in contact by email and in person. James left selling Real Change in 2013 to pursue a certificate in web design at Bellevue College.
He took advantage of his GI benefits and acquired several degrees over the years. He was a lifelong learner, was well-spoken and wrote beautifully. He put me to shame with his emails.
We made a point to get together every quarter during his breaks from school and have lunch to get caught up.
Even with his own hardships he never stopped caring about the thing he was most passionate about and that was ending homelessness. He was a devout activist, attending talks and lending his time and resources to do what he could to help where he could.
The time he spent at Bellevue College he was passionate about implementing a system for low-income students to make hot food in the cafeteria more available and easier to access.
James experienced homelessness twice in his life. The second time he shared with me was after the real estate crash of 2008.
He was working for a construction firm at the time on the Microsoft building in downtown Bellevue when he was laid off. He went through all of his saving, including money he had set aside for a Harley Davidson motorcycle to travel across the United States. That was most painful to see the motorcycle money disappear he would say with a chuckle.
Shortly after finishing his web design certificate, he moved to Bellingham and was later diagnosed with ALS. He loved living in Bellingham and made many friends, including employees who worked at the downtown food co-op. He served in Vietnam and was very happy with the care he received from the VA. I received a tour of the VA and a formal introduction to his nurses and doctors. He wanted to do what he could to help others suffering from the disease.
With his health declining, he never forgot about those less fortunate and always managed a smile and a positive attitude. In his obituary, he asked in place of flowers to donate to Real Change. He was most proud of the work he did here. I was a customer at first and then a friend. The picture is the last time I saw him. He was walking then and gave me this sign, “Dream.” I want to remember him like that. James passed way Dec. 2, 2016.