“So is this real?” Jeffrey Circus’ email began.
It was. After learning that the Pike Place Market had asked its community of musicians to stay home as a precaution against COVID-19, buskers Jeannie Rak and Carly Ann Calbero started the Busker Relief Fund to help their fellow performers stay afloat.
And Circus, one of the applicants to the fund, had just gotten some much-needed cash.
Bit by bit, and over six months, the Busker Relief Fund raised just over $7,000, and awarded all of the applicants between $100 and $200 each, depending on how much of their income came from playing in the market.
The last $100 or so will go to the Pike Place Market Foundation to carry on their work, which includes three different funds that support market vendors and residents, including emergency financial help and grants to help business owners recover from pandemic-related losses.
Patricia Gray, the foundation’s community relations director, was happy to hear of the Busker Relief Fund’s success — and that it was paying the last of it forward.
“It’s a reflection of how the market community works,” Gray said. “It’s a real village. Everybody pulls together, and that’s what makes the magic happen.”
“There is a need to take care of our community members,” said Rak, who since the pandemic broke out has found work as a private chef and has played a few private house concerts for small, masked and socially distanced groups.
Even though they have performed behind open guitar cases for years, it was hard for Rak and Calbero to ask people for money.
“It’s a different story,” Rak said. “In the market, you have an agreement. ‘Here’s my music, here’s my produce.’ Fundraising online is its own beast. You lose that connection.”
Rak and Calbero’s first goal was $2,000, for which they planned to give $100 to $200 to a small group of buskers. Then the applications — and the donations — started rushing in.
“I know people are struggling,” said Calbero, who has been teaching at the School of Rock in Lynnwood. “So it’s been really cool to see how many people were giving what they could when a lot of people aren’t working and they have all these other things going on.
“But they’re keeping the buskers and music in mind.”
It was up to Rak and Calbero to decide who got how much money. They asked applicants to answer 12 questions, including what percentage of their income came from busking. Those for whom busking made up 50 percent or more of their income received $200.
The money may not seem like a lot, but they knows that every bit helps.
“It’s as basic as being able to feed yourself on a weekly basis,” Rak said. “If you can eke it out, bill by bill, every little bit stops you from reaching the threshhold that threatens your ability to live with dignity.”
Calbero noted that the Busker Relief Fund was designed to “hand out quick cash so people could spend it on what they needed, no restrictions.
“People need fast cash sometimes to get out of a quick bind,” she said.
When COVID-19 hit, Circus stopped busking and got part-time work stocking produce at a grocery store. But after his hours were cut, he started busking again, downtown, and at a distance.
“But it’s just me, my wife, a few people in masks and a few super-drunk ‘the end is nigh’ guys,” Circus wrote to Rak and Calbero. “Along with my job, it will hopefully be enough.”
Circus cried when he found that they had put $200 in his Venmo account.
“I just couldn’t believe that two of my fellow buskers, who compete with me for the same spots and crowds, would actually care enough about the rest of us at Pike Place to set up a fundraiser for us,” he wrote.
“My faith in humanity has been faltering a bit due to recent events, but you have steered me away from hate,” he continued. “We wouldn’t be out there if we didn’t need to be, but seeing as we are, I promise to spread as much joy and light as my fingers and vocal cords can muster.”