Our Vendor of the Month for August is Karen Ferguson. Karen has been a vendor with the Toledo Streets Newspaper for a year and uses the sale of her papers to supplement her monthly income. Karen also has her own apartment. She is a native of Toledo and graduated from Bowsher High School, where her favorite subject was music particularly choir. One of her memories of high school was competing at BGSU in solo competition and scoring a 2 out of 5. A future event that Karen is looking forward to is that the class of ’77 will be celebrating their 40th reunion this year at Blarney’s in downtown Toledo. Congratulations!
After high school, Karen attended Lourdes College where she studied Psychology for 2 years. She didn’t finish, but often thinks about going back to finish her degree. Karen at one time was married for 6 ½ years which took her to Euless, Texas where her then husband worked for GTE. After her divorce, Karen continued s in Texas for 15 years. While in Texas, Karen suffered from depression and with her family’s help moved back to the Toledo area and sought help through the Zepf center. When I asked her how she survived that, she said that her “faith and prayer gave me hope to go on instead of giving up.”
Typically, this column celebrates one vendor at a time. This month I would like to celebrate all of our vendors. Not because I couldn’t choose just one but the fact is that this time they have all done some things that are pretty spectacular. In April and May, Toledo Streets Newspaper ran out of papers. Our vendors sold out of stock well before the end of the month leaving our cupboards as bare as Mother Hubbard’s. This is extraordinary because this doesn’t always happen, let alone two months in a row and, when it does it’s usually later in the summer. This year we are way ahead of last year’s numbers. Then there was June. At this writing June is still with us, but I can tell you that our vendors bought 1100 issues in the first two days for sale. That alone is pretty awesome. It wasn’t just one vendor, it wasn’t just a few vendors who accomplished this feat; it was all of them together. Teamwork. [We sold out of a 5500 copy June print run in 28 days – Editor] And there is more. The month of June saw some major changes for Toledo Streets Newspaper. We finally have our own storefront space. This has been a dream for some time for the staff and our board. It literally happened at the last minute. The staff, with the help of some of our vendors, were all packed and ready to move but with no place to go. At the very last minute, this space became available and all the pieces fell into place. The next day the move began. Some of our vendors stepped up and moved boxes, furniture, computers, and plants, starting early in the day. I have a feeling that without the help of Keith, Rex, Brian, Torrence besides the board members, volunteers and our spouses, we would still be moving things over to the new space. Unpacking, cleaning and trying to find places for everything also became a team effort. We didn’t have to ask for volunteers; they just showed up. This was all done while the business of running a newspaper continued. Those vendors who were unable to help with the move contributed with their patience and understanding when needing to buy papers and not knowing exactly where we were; a new form of hide and seek. This is what Toledo Streets is all about. We are more than a monthly newspaper trying to help folks get ahead. We are a team: we are family. We look out for each other and help when needed without waiting to be asked. Each and every one of our vendors deserve to be Vendor of the Month. In my opinion, they already are.
This issue’s Vendor of the Month is Mr. Ron Gage. Mr. Gage has been, until recently, homeless for about a year and a Vendor with Toledo Streets Newspaper for 2 years now. He is one of the paper’s greatest success stories. Mr. Gage now has his own apartment and is employed as an interior painter. Before that he lived at Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission. Mr. Gage is originally from Seattle, WA where he worked as a temporary machinist with Boeing until being laid off. His goal at the time was to save up enough money for a truck and equipment to start his own business. That dream fell apart when he lost his job. He came to Toledo for better job opportunities and found himself homeless. Besides being a Vendor with Toledo Streets, he also works odd jobs and paints. People may not know that Mr. Gage comes from a large family: 3 sisters and 4 brothers. When he was growing up he wanted to be either a basketball player or a professional bowler. He once bowled a 200 game! While still wanting to do either of those sports, at the age of 14 he began dancing and won a few contests. He still likes to dance though now it’s mostly line dancing and says he can out dance anyone and will take on all comers. This past year has seen a lot of loss for Mr. Gage. He recently lost his father and a brother is currently in Hospice in Aurora, IL. He has been working and saving money to visit his brother at the end of May for six days. He has also had his own health issues. He was also jumped by three men while sleeping in the doorway of a local church. His possessions were stolen, and he was beaten badly enough to be hospitalized for 3-4-days. While all this has been hard on him, you wouldn’t know it. Mr. Gage is the type of person who might share with you what is going on, but for the most part keeps it to himself and stays positive in spite of it all. He also was married at one time and has 2 daughters, both of whom are nurses and a son. Most of his family lives in Illinois near Chicago. When I asked him what he would like people to know about him, he answered instead with who he would like to thank for helping him out. In particular, Grumpy’s where you can find him selling papers, the Ottawa Bar for giving him odd jobs to do, and especially to the First Alliance Church for their support and prayers. I have been referring to this vendor as “Mr. Gage” instead of by his first name of Ron. Mr. Gage is always upbeat, positive and unfailingly polite; some might even say old fashioned polite. He has more than earned the right to be treated not only with dignity but with respect and I am honored to know him. So, when you’re out and about and see Mr. Gage, please stop and buy a paper from him and you’ll get a “Thank you and you have a great day.”
Have you met our Vendor of the Month, Wanda Boudrie? Wanda is a lifelong resident of the Toledo area, and has been a vendor with Toledo Street Newspaper since July, 2016. She is one of our more consistent vendors; seldom missing a vendor’s meeting. You can always find her at the BMV during the week or at the Black Kite on weekends. She is also at the Mud Hens ball park on game days during the summer. After a bad marriage, Wanda found herself living on the streets and spent 5 years living in shelters. She has had her own apartment for the last year and a half. One of life’s challenges for Wanda is the fact that she is an insulin dependent diabetic, a condition which has cost her both of her legs. She is amazing at getting around in her motorized wheelchair, but her goal is to be fitted with a pair of prosthetic legs by this summer. She constantly reminds us of the new boots she intends to purchase for dancing. While she may need the wheelchair for now as a tool, the wheel chair does not own or define who she is. Wanda is independent and loves watching both the Mud Hens and the Toledo Walleyes play. When asked about a philosophy she lives by, Wanda’s came down to: “be polite and treat everyone with respect. Thank you or God Bless You doesn’t cost a thing.”
Have you met Michael (Mike) Morgan? Mike Morgan is an all-around nice guy and I’m not saying that because I work with him on a regular basis. He’s always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needs one and does it all with a smile on his face. Mike also has a fascinating story to tell. Mike has been a vendor/writer with Toledo Streets Newspaper (TSN) since 2013 and came to Toledo by way of Pennsylvania and Virginia. He’s originally from York, PA but went to Virginia to help out a family member who was moving to Ohio. He and his wife of 20 years, Tracey, stayed longer than anticipated before they could get their aunt moved to Ohio. Once here, with no jobs and no place to stay, they found themselves staying at the Cherry St. Mission and the Sparrow’s Nest. Not once, but twice, Mike met Ken Leslie (a board member of TSN at the time), at the annual Tent City event and at The Saturday Morning Community Picnic. Ken hooked him up with TSN as a vendor and after selling papers for only a month, Mike was able to afford housing for himself and his wife. Now, besides working as a vendor and a writer for the paper, Mike also attends classes at Owens Community College where he is studying criminal justice. One of his goals is to find employment as a probation officer. In asking Mike to tell me 3 things no one knows about him, he mentioned that he had been at 9/11. It seems that when he lived in York, PA he was working as a tow truck driver. That day a call went out for tow drivers to help move cars, trucks and even some emergency vehicles from the scene. Mike and some others that he worked with headed for NYC. The toll roads into the city had been shut down, but the State troopers were expecting them and they were waved through. Before they could get to the Twin Towers, they were stopped and told to “suit up”. Dressed in hazard suits, gloves and face masks, they began the task of removing vehicles that were in the way of the recovery effort. When I asked Mike what that was like, to be there at Ground Zero, at first all he could do was shake his head. “The smell was awful. After taking the debris off the cars, so we could hook them up, we were told to be careful and look around, under and inside the cars to make sure there were no bodies or body parts. We found a few; I still sometimes have nightmares.” While this was traumatic for Mike, knowing his helpful nature, I think he’s proud of his efforts that day as he should be. A couple more things you may not know about Mike, he is still licensed to drive a tow truck and is also certified through Job Corp. for security work. His long-term goals are to finish school and find employment as a probation officer or some type of security work and to purchase a car. Mike’s secret dream is to drive an 18-wheeler. So, if you’re around the Government Center most days, especially between the hours of noon and 2 p.m., you just might see Mike. Stop and say hello, get a smile from him, and check out the current issue of the Toledo Street Newspaper. You can also find Mike on the corner of Cherry and Summit.