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Donations Hold Steady As Goodwill Expands03:43
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Morgan Memorial Goodwill President and CEO Joanne Hilferty, left, stands in front of the organization's headquarters in Roxbury with Asia Ampey, a job seeker hoping to receive assistance from the on-site career center. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)
Morgan Memorial Goodwill President and CEO Joanne Hilferty, left, stands in front of the organization's headquarters in Roxbury with Asia Ampey, a job seeker hoping to receive assistance from the on-site career center. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)

While times are tough for many nonprofits, Boston-based Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries is expanding -- opening new thrift stores, which are popular among price-conscious consumers. In October  2008,  Goodwill stores earned a record $1 million in sales in one month, a 30-percent increase from the previous year.

Inside Morgan Memorial Goodwill's Roxbury headquarters is a 60,000-square-foot central distribution center, where assorted items pour in from 32 donation sites. There's bin after yellow bin of clothing. There are bins of books. There are lampshades and household goods. An old Monopoly game. A stairclimber. A box with shoes and mirrors.

"All sorts of things," says Goodwill President and CEO Joanne Hilferty. "You never know what's going to come to Goodwill."

Down on the warehouse floor, all of the incoming goods are sorted. Staff go through the items, while others in Goodwill's training programs are hanging clothes, sorting hangers and "pin-tagging" — putting color barbs on each item of clothing that goes out to the stores, to track how long they have been on the floor.

A corridor leads from the warehouse floor into the Goodwill store on Harrison Ave. It's about 14,000 square feet and "chock-full," as Hilferty puts it, standing in front of a rack of women's shirts and blouses. "All priced for $4.99," she says.

Business at Goodwill stores has been strong for awhile, Hilferty says. She says the Harrison Ave. branch brings in about $2 million a year in sales. But in recent months, business has picked up even more. "People can afford what they need," Hilferty says. Plus, "these days, cheap is chic."

'Some folks have given less, others have stepped up'

Employees on the headquarter's warehouse floor sort through boxes of incoming donations. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)
Employees on the headquarter's warehouse floor sort through boxes of incoming donations. (Sarah Bush/WBUR)

Donations to Goodwill have held up so far, Hilferty says. "But we've been concerned. Because in the past, in down economies, donations have gone down, and we have a tremendous need for them. We're expanding and have been expanding our retail enterprise."

As more and more people come to Goodwill stores in need, the organization is reaching out to its donors "to ask them to check that closet, check that garage," Hilferty says. "Make sure you're continuing to donate to Goodwill." The appeal has worked, she says.

Monetary donations are still coming in, too. A recent report by the Giving U.S. Foundation showed donations to social-service organizations dropped nearly 13 percent in 2008. But Hilferty says Goodwill is one of the lucky ones. "Our donations from individuals have really held," she says. "Some folks have given less, others have stepped up and recognized the tremendous need that we have and given more, and we've had some new donors. So we've really held our own."

The basic message Hilferty wants donors to hear is this: "We get tremendous value for the community for a donation to Goodwill," she says. "Whether it's dollars or clothing. And we need you now more than ever."

'We're seeing folks so afraid, so depressed'

The one-stop career center at headquarters has seen a surge in the number of people looking for jobs. There are more than a dozen computers in the room, with people sitting at nearly all of them. A half-dozen desks are scattered around the room, each with four or five chairs, and almost every chair is full.

"We're seeing folks so afraid, so depressed," Hilferty says. "People who never thought they were gonna lose a job. People who had about minimum-wage jobs for years, and if they lost it they get another one, and all of a sudden they can't find that next one, and they say, 'I've never been on unemployment, I don't know how long this is gonna be.' "

Lisa Montgomery, of Boston, is seated at one of the tables, looking purposeful as she combs through a folder in front of her. Montgomery has been trying to find work since she had her daughter, who's now 2-years-old. It's been difficult, she says.

"I do have accounting skills and medical billing (skills)," Montgomery says. "But unfortunately, I don't have any schooling, so the people that have been getting laid off that have college degrees are taking the jobs that little people like me could be having."

Goodwill has been working hard to continue to find people work, despite the tougher job market. "The process is clearly more challenging and slower," Hilferty says. "At the same time, we've had long-standing business relationships with a number of employers that we hoped would benefit us in a down economy, and they definitely have.

"We hope that the worst is behind us, but we plan and prepare as though it were ahead," she says. "We've been around 100 years, pursuing our mission, and we need to be here for the people who need us."


This program aired on June 12, 2009.

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