Our vendors: Mellie Kaufman (Real Change, Seattle, Washington, USA)

By Mellie Kaufman, Real Change vendor of the year 

Two days before my 19th birthday, I was hit by a car up in Shoreline at 15th and 147th. I was in a crosswalk. All I knew, was that one moment I was crossing the street and the next my face hit the windshield. That quick.

They took me to the hospital and said I had suffered amnesia. I had a concussion and a bunch of injuries to my face and my knee was messed up. But I was up walking around the next day after the accident.

And then they released me. And I was on a bus travelling all the way up to Shoreline in the freezing cold. In hospital pyjamas. They had to cut my clothes off.

My mother was informed I got hit by a car and didn’t bother to come visit me. She’d rather sit at home and do her drugs. And I was like, “OK. Wow.”

Mellie Kaufman featured in a short film upon winning Real Change vendor of the year. Credit: Vacuous Films

I graduated from high school in ’97. I was a loner in high school. I kept to myself. I was very good at school. Math was my strength. My highest math level was physics.

Then, from 1998 to 2006, I was in a world where I didn’t know who or where I was. My mom threw me out, and I was on the street.

In 2004, I got into housing. I don’t remember getting into housing. I don’t remember the process of going from homeless to housed.

People have told me bits and pieces of those lost years. I was wandering around out there looking for help.

I just don’t remember. I was gone.

I don’t even remember giving birth to my daughter. She’s 16 right now. I’ve been through a lot. Plus childhood traumas too.

I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. I was fed up from dealing with the childhood stuff. I felt I needed to numb myself. I’m 19 years now clean and sober.

I realised that getting messed up on drugs doesn’t make the problem go away. It’ll always be there when you’re sober.

You gotta start somewhere. You gotta start at the bottom, because if you try and start at the top, you’re just gonna collapse.

I must have gotten involved in Real Change in 2000. I remember Sid, the office cat. I stopped selling for a while and came back in 2014. And I’ve been steady here since then.

I’m in subsidised public housing and pay a third of my income for rent. My disability is $733 a month. I have to pay bills. I don’t get much in food stamps.

Real Change helps me put food on the table. Household items like toilet paper. Gives me the money to load my laundry card up. Real Change helps me keep all the bills paid.

I’m the kind of person who when I get knocked down I always find a way to get back up. I’m strong.

And I just have to take it one day at a time. Can’t rush things. My customers make me feel touched, right here, in my heart. They acknowledge me, as a vendor. As a person, working.

Selling Real Change is about getting up every morning and looking forward to seeing my customers. They are the reason I keep coming out and selling the paper.

It’s not about me. It’s about them. It’s about making the difference to reach out and help me and buy the paper.

I get to know them as people. I don’t just stand there, saying “Hi” and “Bye” to them. I get to know them.

Real Change has taken me in and helped me get further to where I need to be in life.

Part of it is having confidence in myself. Taking responsibility. Being reliable. It’s about mutual respect.

This is a start, right here. You gotta start somewhere. You gotta start at the bottom, because if you try and start at the top, you’re just gonna collapse.

Two years ago, I was procrastinating a lot. Saying I was going to do this. Saying I’m going to do that. But it never got done.

Now I’m able to just get out there and do it. Moving my lips and letting my little feet do the talking.

Before I sold Real Change, I felt like I was nothing. I felt like a piece of trash. Tossed off to the side.

I felt alone. Now, I feel better. Slowly improving, but always getting better.

Read more about Mellie’s Vendor of the Year award here.