Goodwill Melting

The guys who help the disabled are disabled by the storms

This year's hurricanes didn't just beach boats, buzz-saw trees, and short-circuit South Florida. They also floored the region's number one provider of jobs to the disabled. Last week Goodwill Industries of South Florida laid off about 800 people in Miami-Dade County. Many of them worked at a taxpayer-backed superstore and manufacturing plant on NW 21st Street in Allapattah.

"Can you imagine? Isn't it sad?" says Goodwill president Dennis Pastrana. The executive claims his company lost close to one million dollars as a result of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

Many of the layoffs may be temporary, according to Pastrana: "It's hard to say right now — everything depends on when we get power in our stores and what kind of losses we have in the end. We have to start generating revenue again."

In addition to employing hundreds of disabled workers to manufacture military uniforms and flags in Allapattah, Goodwill trains and places more than 1000 disabled workers in janitorial and other jobs across the region every year. It also manages six superstores in Miami-Dade and Broward that sell clothing, furniture, and knickknacks. The two counties' operations merged last summer.

"It's a terrible thing to have all these people without work, because we have a lot of employees who need it," Pastrana says.

It could get worse. According to Pastrana, if Goodwill is not able to show by next July that it has created 80 permanent jobs as a result of the Allapattah operation, it will violate an agreement with the City of Miami. In 2003 commissioners approved $2.5 million in federal development funds to build the Allapattah superstore, where more than 1000 of Goodwill Industries of South Florida's employees worked. A skeleton crew of a few hundred remains there.

"I haven't heard about people losing jobs, but I know that money was based on job creation," says Frank Castañeda, chief of staff for Miami Commissioner Angel Gonzalez, whose district includes Goodwill's administrative headquarters and superstore. "This is all news to me."

The new 20,000-square-foot store opened Thursday, October 20 — four days before Wilma hit Miami-Dade. The Miami Herald called it "among the nation's largest thrift stores."

Pastrana, obviously distraught, said he hoped to rehire the employees by next year: "I certainly hope we can create the jobs we're supposed to. I don't know, call me back next week. Maybe I'll know then. It's so sad, because the people we employ are really needy people."

The executive estimates that power outages at the manufacturing facilities combined with lost revenue from closed stores will cause losses of $250,000 from Hurricane Katrina, $150,000 from Rita, and as much as $500,000 from Wilma.

 
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