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Wednesday, 02 March 2011 20:30

Goodwill not showing much good will to other nonprofits

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Some local thrift shop operators in Jackson County or crying foul over a nonprofit accepting donations in Sylva despite not having a store in the county.

Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina has a trailer (as in the second half of the word tractor-trailer) parked alongside N.C. 107 near Wal-Mart. The nearest Goodwill stores, however, are located in neighboring Macon and Haywood counties, with the one in Waynesville opening just last month.

Ina Claire “Sam” Bryant, a board member for Jackson County Habitat for Humanity, doesn’t deny that Goodwill does good work. That said, Bryant firmly believes the huge nonprofit needs to recognize it’s severely damaging the abilities of smaller good-work agencies to help county residents more directly.

“I think it is outrageous,” Bryant said. “My concern, as a citizen of Jackson County, is that whatever is collected in this county should benefit Jackson County — because our people need these collections and the donations. And the need is growing.”

Because Habitat for Humanity doesn’t accept clothing, it isn’t being as profoundly impacted as some nonprofits in Jackson County that rely on thrift-store money to operate, she said.

Goodwill is one of the world’s largest nonprofit providers of education, training and career services for people with disadvantages, such as welfare dependency, homelessness and lack of education or work experience, as well as those with physical, mental and emotional disabilities.

Goodwill Industries set up its Sylva donations trailer in 2009. Jaymie Eichorn, who handles marketing and communications in this region out of Winston-Salem for the nonprofit, said she understands the concerns of some in Jackson County, but added she doesn’t believe the entire problem rests with her agency. Not, she said, given the national downward spiral of the economy.

“Our donations are down, too,” Eichorn said.

Janet Mason, finance director for REACH, said the anti-domestic violence agency is experiencing more than simply a downturn in donations resulting from difficult economic hard times and a harsh winter season. Mason said the Jackson County nonprofit saw an immediate decline in donations when Goodwill moved in.

She attributed the donation drain to two issues: local residents not realizing that when they give to Goodwill the donations don’t directly benefit Jackson County residents, and the convenience and ideal location of Goodwill’s trailer setup. REACH thrift store moved from a near-downtown spot to a smaller store and along a fairly obscure part of Skyland Drive to save on rent.  

REACH of Jackson County’s financial problems are so dire the agency is facing the possibility of shutting down. This is a larger problem than anything Goodwill can possibly be blamed for, Mason acknowledged. But since the larger nonprofit came in, she said, the agency’s thrift store is barely breaking even. And, when you are just hoping to cover payroll and find enough pennies for the phone bill, Goodwill and its donation drain aren’t exactly helping the situation.

“I can’t sell it if I don’t have anything to sell,” said Mason, who in a cost-saving move recently took over management of the thrift store in addition to overseeing the agency’s budget.

REACH in 2001 opened a transitional village for women to the tune of $1.1 million, using a federal loan and a state loan. The agency overreached in its ability to pay for that dream of helping abused women find temporary homes, jobs and other help. Today, the village is in foreclosure proceedings. The problems don’t stop there: because of how the state handles grant money — not starting payments until about four months into the beginning of each fiscal year — REACH must find money before July (an estimated $100,000 to $150,000) to ride out that financial drought.  

Eichorn said Goodwill uses a trailer-donation setup elsewhere, not just in Sylva. It is an excellent method for the nonprofit to gauge whether a community has the interest and ability to support a store, she said.

“We’d love to have one there,” Eichorn said, though there are no plans for one at this point.

The donation center employs two Jackson County residents, Eichorn said.

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