The Contributor, as detailed in Thursday's Scene cover story, faces a severe cash shortage due to a combination of rapid growth and undeveloped fundraising. Wednesday's bi-monthly meeting, where the homeless who sell the paper come to buy papers and hear information about the issue, was the first time that the nonprofit's leadership had spoken to vendors about it.
"VENDOOOOORRRRRSSSSS OF THE CONTRIBUTOR!" shouted director of vending Tom Wills to open the session. After running through some announcements, including an extra 20 free papers for vendors who took a survey, he noted the opportunities that The Contributor provides for Nashville's homeless. Typically, vendors purchase papers for a quarter which they can then sell for a dollar, and meetings like this one give them the chance to get extra issues for free.
"We sell more street newspapers today than any other paper like it in the world," he said, voice rising. "You have the opportunity to work as much as you want, where you want.
"And you do it with class."
He then detailed a new fundraising campaign. "We're running low on funds," Wills said, revealing that the upcoming issue carried a giant headline which reads, "FINAL ISSUE?"
The new campaign, called "High Five Your Vendor," asks the public to donate $5, $50, $500 or $5,000 to the parent organization. Its scope will have to be ambitious. After raising $460,000 over the last six years, according to Wills, they will need to raise $375,000 in the next year.
The meeting took on an entirely different tone as Downtown Presbyterian pastor Ken Locke took the lectern.
"You are welcome here. The Contributor will ALWAYS be welcome here," he boomed. "I believe in prophetic voices, and The Contributor is the largest prophetic voice in Nashville today!"
A few amens and shouts responded to Locke, who thumped the podium.
"When you stand on the street corner, whether it's a hot August day or a cold January night, whether it's rain or shine, you are calling our city to account for justice! For the poor! For those that have been pushed down by the system! And because you are that prophetic voice, you will ALWAYS have a home here."
Locke received a standing ovation.
Executive Director Tasha French Lemley followed Locke and invoked the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., whose "I Have a Dream" speech was 50 years ago today.
"Like Dr. King we are fighting for jobs, freedom and equality. This is not an insurmountable challenge," Lemley said. "Is this it? Are you gonna let it be the final issue?"
"NOs" rained back from the audience.
Lemley said vendors would be given donation envelopes, which could be given to supporters who purchase the paper. Roughly half of The Contributor's budget comes from donations. Money given to vendors for copies of the paper stay with the vendor.
Former vendor Anita Smith closed with a short speech about the power of prayer. As she led the group in a rendition of "We Shall Overcome," vendors came down front for a group picture in a scene that resembled more of an altar call than most Presbyterian churches are used to.
As the hundreds assembled posed for a picture, one vendor pulled out a dollar to give to The Contributor. Then another. Pretty soon dozens were reaching into their pockets to kick off the fundraising effort, something Lemley clearly hadn't expected.
"I may be homeless," one vendor yelled, "but I've got a dollar."
And so The Contributor's giving campaign kicked off with $87.50 from Nashville's homeless.