Day 4: Jenn and The Bridge: The Memphis Street Paper

Today my volunteering odyssey brought me to St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, where The Bridge, a Memphis newspaper featuring content written by the homeless, held a distribution meeting for returning vendors and training for new ones.

The Bridge gets its name from its aim to “bridge the gap” between homeless and sheltered by giving a voice and income to the homeless community.  Its the first paper of its kind here in Memphis.  Four students from Rhodes College came up with the idea, basing it on similar papers in other cities.  MidSouth Peace and Justice is helping with finances.  The monthly paper is sold by the homeless for a dollar an issue.  Its content is produced by the homeless or formerly homeless, and contributors are paid for their articles and artwork.

At today’s distribution meeting, returning vendors were there to pick up more papers and a few new people were there to train.  All vendors are certified and given a badge to identify them as legitimate sellers. Each person gets 20 free copies of the month’s edition.  They can buy more copies for a quarter a piece and then sell them for a dollar.  The vendors keep all the profit.  One man bought one-hundred copies and said he had sold around 70 in the last few days.

Because the vendors are selling the paper, what they are doing is not panhandling.  I wasn’t too surprised to hear the vendors are not allowed on Beale Street, but I was shocked that they aren’t allowed near some churches.  The Bridge also communicates with Memphis Police to make sure the vendors aren’t hassled.  The vendors are also held to certain standards.  They must wear their badge when they’re selling.  They can’t sell anything other than the paper while wearing the badge.  There’s no harassing and no obstructing traffic.

My role as volunteer was to stack the papers in groups of 20 for distribution.

The college students putting this paper together are working on their own time.  It was nice to witness their dedication first hand.

Jenn Allmon is a journalist and public relations professional with over ten years experience in local television. She can be reached for volunteer or employment opportunities at jennallmon@gmail.com.

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