These irreverent greeting cards are written by people who have experienced homelessness

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Last year, Second Story Cards, a small independent greeting card company in Washington, sold about 20,000 cards from its catalog of wry, tender, and sometimes evil missives. Cards with messages such as:

“Thank God the wedding is over.”

“The only thing harder than running 26.2 miles is putting up with someone training to run 26.2 miles. You’re in control.”

“I’m much more me when I’m with you.”

One of Second Story’s best-selling items of late is a white greeting card decorated with painted sundrop flowers that advise, in all caps, “You’re gonna get through this s—.”

But the fate of the Second Story Cards may be less certain due to the pressure of the pandemic. Almost all of its business comes from wholesale to stores in Washington and more than a dozen states, as well as sales at pop-up markets in the region. Founder Reed Sandridge worries not only about his own well-being and economic prospects, but also those of his card makers.

The one-man operation works with people who are or have been homeless to turn their minds and clarity into greeting cards and royalties: 15% of the sale price of a card goes to its author, which which for some card makers last year was around $2,000, says Sandridge. Another 10% of sales are donated to a charity chosen by the author. Often, it is an organization that has helped them during their homelessness.

“We end up being the thoughts and hopes of everyday people,” Sandridge says. “Our success just proves that you can look at someone on the street and think, ‘That person and I are so different,’ and yet when their ideas and words resonate with people who aren’t homeless, it just a testament to how we are all the same at our core, we deal with different issues at different levels, but we all deal with issues and challenges.

Revenue for the 3.5-year-old business doubled in 2019, according to Sandridge, 46, who expected to turn a profit this year for the first time. Instead, he spends his days selling individual cards online, alchemizing new business angles for Second Story, and fighting for small business aid (amounting to a $1,000 grant from the city and a federal government loan). In an effort to sustain himself and the business afloat, he also applies for other full-time jobs.

“I’m committed to the business,” says Sandridge, “but [the pandemic] could transform us in ways I wasn’t really prepared for. But we’re not going to leave. »

Second Story Cards contracts with about 20 card makers (most of them are currently hosted, according to Sandridge) and two independent designers. Many card makers are starting to crumble from the stresses of this year, Sandridge says, finding that having a house to be trapped in “is a different kind of hell.” And although some days the pulse of the business quickens and brings Sandridge with it, its hope for a boom in holiday sales, which typically accounts for almost half of the year’s revenue, evaporates.

“You know when you see something and it’s right?” he laments. “Like everything works: it helps people, they succeed commercially, people appreciate them. … It should work.

The company was born of the last economic crisis. In 2009, Sandridge was fired from a nonprofit organization where he worked to improve the nutrition and well-being of children, and, in an effort to get out of the ensuing funk and connect with others , he decided to go around town giving $10 to a random person every day for a year. (He chronicled the effort on Some of those people were homeless, and those relationships led to Second Story Cards.

Sandridge’s first card maker was Anthony Crawford, who was selling the Street Sense newspaper at 19th and M streets NW when Sandridge offered him $10 in early 2010. Crawford is 63 and is humbly optimistic with a rich, ready voice for dissemination. After he met Sandridge, they began meeting for lunch or coffee every two weeks. In 2013 Sandridge had helped Crawford navigate his way to a home after 20 years on the streets, and in late 2016 Crawford helped Sandridge launch the card company as the first card maker and guardian of the glass mentality. half full. “I’ve never had anyone accept me the way Reed does,” Crawford says. For him, Second Story Cards is a chance to feel connected to people in a way he wasn’t able to do before. People “never hung around me,” Crawford says. “Why? “He’s on the street. They walked past me like I was nobody.

Cardmaker Sasha Williams feels the same; in the past, she wondered, “Am I worth anything to anyone?” She says the maps she produces — along with her work for Street Sense and a 2015 documentary she made about her life inside the now-closed DC General shelter — give her voice and confidence.

Williams, 35, began working on maps with Sandridge in 2017. At the time, she was in her own apartment after experiencing a car accident that left her blind in one eye, a sexual assault at gunpoint, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and housing instability for much of his adult life. She now has an apartment in northeast Washington, where she lives with her two daughters. Her eldest, who is 7 years old and lived with her at DC General, also creates maps for Second Story.

“I love my cards because they’re like pieces of me,” Williams says. “At best, I just try to look on the bright side and know that, sure, I’ve been through all these things, but I can create my destiny. I can still have a purpose, I can still do more, I I can always be in a happy place. My maps show it.

Williams wrote the card “You’ll get through this s—“. “Sometimes you just have to encourage yourself to talk with yourself. …Sometimes you just have to tell yourself it’s gonna be okay, you know what I mean? It’ll be fine,” she said. “[When I see that card] now it’s another reminder. And when I see the answer, I say to myself: people know. People also need this reminder.

Danny Freedman is a writer in Memphis.

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