Vendor of the Week
Vendor of the Week: Robert Riley
Robert Kenneth Riley was born on a military base on Fort Benning, Ga. His father was in the Air Force and the family bounced around to France, Japan, Guam, Korea, and Texas, never spending more than two or three years in one place.
Every few years he had to start a new school in a new country and meet new people.
It was difficult, Robert said, but the hardship also led him to become more adventurous and more willing to try new things.
Robert turns 60 in March and he plans to go to a part of the world that he has never seen, maybe China or parts of the Mediterranean.
Robert first came to Seattle in the late 1970s, but only started selling Real Change in the 1990s.
“I was really low on money, I just started selling papers to make a little extra cash,” he said. “It really worked well for me, especially when I was desperate because it kept me from doing anything illegal.”
Almost anything: Robert ended up going to jail for possession of marijuana under the sentence of manufacturing for delivery. When he completed his jail time he couldn’t find a job because he was a convicted felon.
“No one wanted to hire me because I had a drug conviction. I couldn’t even find a place to live. No one would even rent to me. I wasn’t trusted anywhere.” After his release from jail, Robert sold the paper for a short period of time. Between his Real Change sales and a military pension, Robert was able to find housing with his girlfriend.
(A pension is not the only legacy of Robert’s military service: a military car accident shattered both legs. One of his legs was treated correctly, however one of his legs was not attended to properly and because of this, Robert still has walking problems.)
The theme of our recent annual Real Change breakfast was “In search of home.”
That search prompted Robert to come to Seattle more than three decades ago: “I wanted to have a place that I could come back to, a home base.”
Robert has a home now. In fact, his finances improved so he doesn’t sell the paper much anymore.
“We have money to live on now, I don’t need to sell the paper so I don’t do it,” he said.
He still comes to Real Change office regularly.
“I buy the papers and donate them,” Robert said. “I know that there are people that don’t have any money that need it. I know that I used to do the same thing when I was struggling for money.”
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