Algia Benjamin, Spare Change News Vendor

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Larissa Butrimowicz
Spare Change News

Algia Benjamin is one of our Spare Change News vendors who has been with the paper since 1992, three months after the paper was created.

He was born in Alabama, but when his parents separated, his mother moved to Boston with him when he was seven. He recalls having a happy childhood with 6 sisters and 2 brothers, whom he is very close with.

Algia went to Dorchester High School and pursued a career as a licensed carpenter. He enjoyed his work as a carpenter and worked for the Big Dig for a year and a half.

However, he and his wife separated, and this was when he became homeless. He began going to shelters in Boston and met someone who told him about the paper, so he joined Spare Change.

Algia does not have housing at the moment and has been homeless on and off, but he is fortunate enough to have friends and family to say with. Sometimes he goes to a shelter. He was at the Pine Street Inn last year, and says, “I don’t want to be in a place like that.”

When he was growing up, he never thought he would be homeless. “I grew up in a working class family and it was always said that you go to work. That’s probably why I sell the paper and put in as much hours as I do selling Spare Change. I understand that it’s a part of my survival, it’s about being able to provide for myself,” says Algia.

The most papers Algia ever sold in a day was 200, one time around the holidays. He says that a lot of time goes into selling the paper and that, “you have to have faith in people. Even though this person might not buy, someone else will”.

He says that selling the paper requires patience. He spends about 8-10 hours a day rain, snow, or shine and thinks that people have more respect when you’re selling something and give something.

He mentions one of his regular customers. “I have a woman that gives me a dollar every day, no matter what. She won’t even take a paper from me, and every day she will walk by and give me a dollar…that’s dedication”.

Algia thinks that the paper is interesting and that it’s something people want to read. He thinks that it continues to improve.

He is currently unemployed with no other source of income other than Spare Change News. He does collect food stamps, but most of it is spent on his family. He knows that he is physically able to work, but hasn’t been given an opportunity.

However, Algia is a jack of all trades; he does brick masonry, plumbing, landscaping, and detailing cars. He said “When I do a job, I’m one of those people that has to be a perfectionist. It has to be right or I’ll tell the person I can’t do it”.

He recently laid some bricks and noticed that it was not done properly, so he came back the next day and redid the entire job. He knows that he is more than capable of working and being good at it, and he knows that he can do just about anything. He said, “I go around and I put flyers in the neighborhood and ask if people need help with their lawn, raking leaves, because I don’t really care what it is, I’ll do whatever”.

Most importantly, Algia wants people to know that “anybody can be homeless at any given time….you come home, your house is on fire, you’re homeless at that point”. He says there are so many different ways to become homeless. He said “I grew up in a middle-class family, very well educated. There’s a lot of love in my family and I still became homeless”.

He wants people to know that all the Spare Change News vendors are out there because they need help and that he wouldn’t be out there if he didn’t need help.

Algia is a firm believer in Spare Change News and has seen many people get their lives together through Spare Change News. He said “Spare Change is a foundation for a lot of people to get their lives together. I sell the paper because I am dedicated to the paper and I am dedicated to what this paper can do for people. There’s times I don’t want to sell the paper. I get tired of rejection, that dealing with rejection, when people say ‘thank you but no thank you’ ”. He eventually wants to move on from the paper even though he is dedicated to it. It is not something he wants to do forever. He never thought he would still be here selling the paper 20 years later. He just turned 50 years old and takes life more seriously now than in the past. Algia also has an 11-year-old daughter, Jessica, that he is very close with. He spends a lot of time with her doing fun things like ice skating at the Frog Pond.

He believes it’s very important for fathers to spend time with their daughters. He says that turning 50 is scary, that he doesn’t have that many more years, and he wants to be sure that his daughter will be all right and will have a solid foundation. He believes that his long hours selling papers will pay off. He sells outside CVS in Porter Square. “Porter Square is a good area and a lot of people are dedicated customers. They talk about how good the paper is and how good it’s gotten over the years.”

Overall, Algia wants people to know that Spare Change has helped him and been there for him for the past 20 years. “If I had a million dollars I would defiantly make a donation to Spare Change, because this organization gives back what is so lightly given”.

He thinks that all his customers should take a paper when they buy it so they know about the paper, what’s going on and what it stands for. He wants people to be educated about the paper, and know that the vendors are important because they keep the paper functioning.

Algia remembers a customer once gave him a check for $1,000, and he had the customer write the check to Spare Change News as a donation. He thinks the organization needs money and that the check was not just for him, but for everybody. “Spare Change is there for me and I’m there for Spare Change. It isn’t about the $1,000, it’s about giving Spare Change a donation to sustain the organization”.

Larissa Butrimowicz writes for Spare Change News.

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