— Like a new automobile almost magically taking shape as it passes through stations in an assembly plant, Goodwill Manasota has a similar process when someone brings in an unwanted item from the garage or attic.
Each donation goes on a separate path in the back of a Goodwill store depending on whether it’s apparel or a ware. It’s sorted, tagged, priced, repaired and perhaps put on a hanger, all in a process as efficient as an auto plants, but with live Goodwill workers doing 100 percent of the work and not a robot to be seen.
Goodwill Manasota’s Veronica Brandon Miller invited the media to tour the roughly year-old Goodwill store at 8750 E. State Road 70 in East Manatee for a behind-the-scenes look Wednesday at an operation that creates a paycheck for more than 800 Goodwill workers in four counties who otherwise may not have a job.
The tour was led by Goodwill manager Alexa Olivas.
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“We wanted to show you how donations from the community are changing lives through the power of work,” Brandon Miller said.
When Goodwill was started decades ago, the idea was for American immigrants to have work by mending and repairing cast-off items to be resold cheaply, Brandon Miller said.
“We no longer mend clothes but the theory is still the same,” Brandon Miller said.
The generosity of the Manatee area is remarkable, Goodwill officials told the media.
The value of the average Manasota Goodwill donation, which includes furniture and jewelry, is $42, Brandon Miller said.
“Last week we got a new boat trailer donated,” said Samantha Cummins, Goodwill director of marketing and public relations.
“Someone recently donated a model plane that flies,” Brandon Miller said.
The Manatee County area is more saturated with Goodwill stores and donation points than any community in the United States, Brandon Miller said.
The Goodwill store on Honore Avenue in Sarasota has the highest sales volume of any Goodwill store in Florida and third highest in the United States, Brandon Miller said.
“I have lived in many places and I have to admit this is the most generous community I have ever seen,” Brandon Miller said.
College students from IMG, Ringling School of Art and Design, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and State College of Florida also have a tradition of donating items to Goodwill when they leave campus, Brandon Miller said.
There are 37 Goodwill donation sites and nine retail locations just in the Manatee area.
If the donated item is apparel such as clothing or linen, which is about 50 percent of all donations, it’s put into huge barrels in the employee-only areas of the store.
Teams of employees called sorters, hangers, taggers and others send the items along an assembly line. Some items will go on the sales floor but some will get sent “down the river” to the bargain barn if stained or ripped.
Some employees separate apparel going to the sales floor into women, men, boys, girls and then by tops and bottoms. Some employees price each piece, fold it and hang it.
Goodwill has a base price for everything, including books, mattresses, end tables, shirts, shoes and hundreds of other items.
Employees are trained to recognize more valuable items such as a genuine Coach purse or Calvin Klein sheets, and look up their value in special guides, Olivas said.
Special pieces are priced higher and often go to the “boutique” part of the store.
“We try to get the most value out of the stuff that is donated while still giving the public a good deal,” Olivas said.
Goodwill prices items anywhere from one-third to one-half of retail value, Olivas added.
The Goodwill store at 8750 E. State Road 70, Bradenton, is unique because it has a “tech connection” and refurbishes donated computers and sells them. It will also fix a customer’s personal computer for a fee, Olivas said.
“You can buy a computer here for from $100 to $150 and get a warranty on it or bring your computer in here for repair,” Olivas said. “Everything is ‘as-is’ in Goodwill except the computers in this store.”
The East Manatee store also has a facet called “Job Connection” where anyone can stop by to get job and resume advice, Brandon Miller said.
Although Goodwill employees check item values, quite often something slips through the cracks, which “treasure hunters” love, Olivas told the media during her tour.
She described an oil painting of a dog sold for $30 or $40 on the grand opening day of the State Road 70 Goodwill store about a year ago. The woman who bought it discovered it was worth about $4,000. The painting was sold at auction and the woman who bought it donated the money to an animal shelter, Olivas said.
A customer also recently found a diamond and gold brooch on a vest and gave the brooch to store employee.
“She could have bought the vest and had a brooch along with it that was worth thousands,” Olivas said. “We are not perfect. We will miss things.”