Tye Dye Thom fundraises for Alternative Breaks
March 1, 2010 —
The typical college fundraiser involves moderately priced baked goods or T-shirts that make sexual innuendos out of lacrosse equipment. Only one fundraiser involves a long-haired, bearded man clad in orange camouflage pants and a long-sleeved Bob Marley shirt.
For a week each semester, Tye Dye Thom sets up shop at SVSU to raise funds for Alternative Breaks — a campus organization that sends students across the country and the world to lead service projects throughout winter and spring breaks.
Thom’s merchandise: all that which is quintessentially “hippie.” From handmade hemp jewelry to Indian tapestries to shirts he says Bob Marley’s widow and daughter produce, Tye Dye Thom keeps a full stock of artistic commodities that tend to transcend generations of college students.
Thom donates 20 percent of his sales — about half of his profits — to Alternative Breaks. He estimates he’s raised upwards of $45,000 in the past four years.
Those who travel within earshot of Tye Dye Thom’s displays know it’s not hard to figure out he is the antithesis of shy.
“I thrive off of human contact,” he said.
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it’s not uncommon to catch Thom hemp-necklace deep in a debate with students on health care reform or a conversation about Peruvian alpaca wool. With a résumé that includes 10 years’ experience following the Grateful Dead around the country selling grilled cheese sandwiches, he has yet to run out of stories to tell.
“He talks to every single person who passes,” said Meghan Champeau, site leader for the Tennessee-bound Native American issues spring break. “What I like about Thom is he can keep a conversation going. There’s no small talk with him.”
The self-identified hippie isn’t afraid to speak his mind on controversial issues. Opposing viewpoints tend to intrigue him.
“I respect students who challenge me,” he said. “I’m constantly learning from the next generation.”
“And every time he talks to someone, he spreads the word about Alternative Breaks,” said Nadine Bowman, a participant from Champeau’s break.
Tye Dye Thom’s affiliation with AB stems from his first encounter with the group shortly after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Many years earlier, the Pittsburg native had found his footing in New Orleans, marketing his merchandise in the French Market with the aid of a Vietnamese produce vendor who first dubbed him Tye Dye Thom.
After the natural disaster struck, Thom returned from a Kentucky business venture to find much of his New Orleans property in ruins. It was then that he first encountered Alternative Breakers on a mission to rebuild and assist those who had lost everything.
“It blew my mind that college kids would not only give up their spring break, but pay to do it,” he said.
Tye Dye Thom now fundraises at universities in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Off the road, he hangs his hat in Bowling Green, Ohio.
His favorite of these states, he says, is Michigan.
“Here, the closed-minded people don’t talk to me, and everyone else is friendly.”
SVSU shoppers will never find Tye Dye Thom manning his business alone. Alternative Breakers take turns at his tables all day, offering the type of assistance Thom says he doesn’t get anywhere else.
“No other school is committed to being here the entire time,” Thom said. “And it’s easy to tell the students here are committed to each other.”