After 13 years as Street Spirit’s Vendor Coordinator, JC Orton is retiring from his role.

JC Orton stands outside of his big blue van in Downtown Berkeley in 2019. (Alastair Boone)

Since 2011, JC Orton has distributed Street Spirit to our newspaper vendors from his big blue van six days a week. He parks outside of Peet’s Coffee on Shattuck Avenue each morning, Monday through Saturday, from 7:00-9:00 a.m. giving out newspapers—alongside a host of other services he provides for unhoused people in Berkeley through his leadership of the local chapter of the Catholic Worker. On Sundays, he organizes a hot meal for unhoused people, which for many years took place at People’s Park. Our vendors knew they could find him there, too, if they needed to grab a stack of papers or get a plate of food. And if they needed a paper outside of his normal working hours? No problem. He would invite them to his home, and help them with whatever they needed there. 

When I started editing Street Spirit in 2018, I had a lot to learn. JC invited me to sit with him during his “office hours” in his blue van. I went every Wednesday morning from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. for about two years. Those morning were a lesson in what truly radical compassion looks like. I was awestruck by the depth of JC’s relationships with the people he worked with. As a rep-payee for a handful of people, it was his legal responsibility to hold onto their most valuable things, including money, medication, and mail. He is not an official service provider—in some ways, he was just a guy in a van—but to know JC is to trust him. His consistency, his patience, and his unwavering moral compass allow him to care for other people with complete selflessness. I have never met another person who operates with such pure dignity. His goodness knows no bounds. 

In 2020, I interviewed JC for a story about why he is driven to work with Street Spirit. 

Street Spirit is part of what I’m doing anyway – working with folks,” he told me. “I can’t change their lives, but I can try to make their lives as they are a little better. Somebody to get a sandwich [from], or just come by and chat [to]. [Somebody] who will listen to their story, and sometimes that’s the hardest thing. Nobody wants to listen to their story.”

JC has made his life’s work of listening to people’s stories. In that, he has become an inextricable part of the Street Spirit family, and we will miss him dearly. 

If you are a Street Spirit vendor who gets your papers from JC, you will need to pick them up from the new Street Spirit office starting May 1. 

Our address is: 2726 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, in Berkeley 

Our hours are:

Monday-Friday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit.