“Boss, I need to talk to you sometime. Privately.” Jeanne Sullivan is a part-time employee at the coffee shop. She juggles two part-time jobs with her college class schedule.
“Sure, but we can talk now. Nobody in the shop.”
“I guess I could give you all kinds of stories and rationale, but the bottom line is that I need a raise or something because I’m getting farther behind.”
“Right now I’m paying you regular minimum—none of that two-dollar stuff—and you’re probably due for evaluation and upgrade. Let’s work on that. What’s causing you to get behind? When you started here, you had everything beautifully balanced and in good order.”
“Yes, I did. But I pushed myself, had that bicycle accident last year, and a couple other things happened so I borrowed $200 from a payday lender because it seemed convenient.“
“You did what? Why didn’t you come to me? We could have worked out something.”
“I didn’t want to bother you. My parents had already told me that they couldn’t help. I felt pressure to pay my bills and it was easy to get the loan. Just like the ads. Now I’ve been paying for nine months and my total amount owed is like $350. I know I should have paid more than minimum but that was all I could afford. The interest is hurting me bad.”
“That’s a whole different mess. Let me see what we can do. Let’s talk more later.”
“Thanks, Boss. Time to go to class.”
Later I asked some of the regular customers if they had experience with the payday lenders. I learned that Jeanne’s experience was normal. I learned that the lenders justified their high interest rates by saying that they were lending to high-risk borrowers and that the state legislature had exempted them from many of the laws governing bank lending. They asked me why I was asking and I told them that one of the staff had fallen into a bind because of such a loan.
Sam McGovern told me that he’d put fifty dollars toward a fund to help Jeanne and anybody else in need. Harold Varsamian said he would put in thirty dollars. Ms. Anne Thrope said that she would match whatever they gave. Ruth Arnold, Helen Bentley, Archie Measles, Mulberry Kaimakamian, and Croaker Sculthorpe added to the fund, and we had more than enough money to help Jeanne. That’s when we decided that we wouldn’t simply give her the money. We wanted her to repay the money on her own schedule and without interest. Other money we figured we could use to help other people who needed short-term loans. And we began the coffee club’s community share fund.
After we helped Jeanne, we decided that the fund could afford to lend without interest $100 to help people in times of need. Jeanne found a way to pay back her borrowed amount and we’ve had three others borrow money—one as little as $50—and repay with gratitude the borrowed amount. It’s not a sophisticated organization, and we’re not a threat to any financial institution, but we are helping folks in our neighborhood. And that is part of the mission of every local business.