Buzz buzz buzz! The bell is ringing in the back room of the building at 1409 W. Pioneer Parkway in Peoria…signaling another donation ready to be received. Within seconds, an employee rushes to the door to greet the customer and unload the items they wish to donate. “You don’t even have to step out of the car,” proclaims Dyrke Maricle, director of retail operations for Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois.

For many of us, “spring cleaning” is an annual event—one that doesn’t always take place in the spring. Others keep our closets spic-and-span year-round. But nearly all of us donate those items we no longer need to a service organization like Goodwill. So what happens after you drop off those items and drive away?

Sorting Through Treasure
For a Goodwill employee, the first step is to make sure the donor is not kept waiting. When that bell rings, the goal is to have someone at the door in five seconds to greet them and receive their donations as quickly and efficiently as possible. “You put the stuff down wherever you can not trip over it,” laughs Maricle.

When the donor drives away, all of those boxes and bags of treasure enter Goodwill’s inventory stream. Clothing—by far the most commonly donated items—are separated from wares and placed in large bins to be sorted. Wares—all items other than clothing, including shoes—are moved to a separate sorting table.

When it’s full, the clothes bin is wheeled over to the “hanging tables” and processed by teams of three. First, there is a quality check to make sure the item is presentable. As for what quality is, “We try to let our customer decide,” says Maricle. For some, a little fray on the cuffs or a small hole in the jeans may be acceptable (or even desirable.) Heavily stained or torn items go to the salvage bin, where they are sold to third-party distributors, who process them into rags, rugs and other textile products or deliver them to developing countries. If you’ve ever seen a picture of someone on the other side of the world sporting a Chicago Bears shirt, there’s a good chance it came from such a distributor.

Clean clothing in good condition is tagged, sized and placed on a rack of hangers. Most items sold by Goodwill have a unit price—for instance, women’s blouses start at $3.49; the same is true for men’s long/short sleeved and polo-type shirts. The price doubles for high-quality brands. (Name-brand clothes make up approximately 20 to 30 percent of clothing donations.)

Wares are examined for quality and placed in a bin to be priced or in the necessary recycling container. Broken items and those that are missing pieces are discarded. Shoes that are not of high quality are rubber-banded and go to salvage; televisions are plugged in to ensure working condition. Most electronic equipment is not tested by Goodwill, but customers are allowed to test items in the store before making a purchase. A three-day money-back guarantee is offered on “anything that plugs in or has batteries.”

Pricing non-textile products is much trickier than pricing clothing. “It’s impossible to make a price list,” notes Maricle, and so prices are determined largely by the experience of staff. Meanwhile, items that appear to be valuable or collectible are sent to shopgoodwill.com, the organization’s online marketplace, to be researched and put up for bid.

A New Store Every Hour
The restocking process at Goodwill is a continuous one. When a rack is full, it is taken to a holding area on the sales floor. Some items don’t even make it to the sales rack proper, as eager customers scour the newly released items as fast as they can be rolled out. “We get out new merchandise every hour,” says Maricle. “It’s a different store in the afternoon than it was that morning.”

On average, Goodwill receives 565 donations each day. Donations are fairly steady throughout the year, with a slight dip in the cold winter months and a modest increase in the summer due to the number of garage sales. The bookshelves change daily, says Maricle, which leads to repeat customers returning often, sometimes more than once in a single day. In-store silent auctions are held on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, which also increases recurring traffic in the retail stores.

At shopgoodwill.com, it’s more like a new store every minute. Donations are culled to find anything unusual or of possible increased value—staff at all of the donation centers is trained on what should be sent to the organization’s version of eBay. At the Goodwill Logistics Center in East Peoria, these items are researched and put online for bidding. In addition, Goodwill sells a large number of books on Amazon and on eBay itself.

Shopgoodwill.com lists collectibles of all kinds, from vintage Barbie dolls and toys to a plethora of figurines, glassware and musical instruments. Occasionally, items on the site are found to be quite valuable indeed. An uncut emerald once sold for $5,000; a painting for more than $3,000. Recently, a Conn trombone sold for just over $600. Best of all, auction winners can rest assured, knowing that not only did they find an item of value, but that the profits go to fund the mission of Goodwill.

Accomplishing the Mission
“We improve the economic self-sufficiency of individuals and families through the dignity and power of work.” That is the mission statement of Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois, which covers 18 counties throughout the region. It is an independent member of Goodwill Industries International, which includes 171 agencies in the U.S., Canada and 14 other countries, making it North America’s largest nonprofit provider of employment and training services. Goodwill Industries was founded in Boston in 1902 based upon the philosophy that individuals desire to be independent and self-supporting. The local organization incorporated in 1934 at the height of the Great Depression.

Why are your donations so important to Goodwill? “Our mission is funded primarily by selling the donations we receive,” said Patty Fuchs, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois. These donations are “the wheel that makes everything turn,” added Craig Armstrong, marketing and public relations specialist for the agency.

“Job training, veterans’ services and environmental responsibility are our areas of focus,” continued Fuchs. The organization offers more than 75 free online courses covering computers, communications, customer service, finance, personal development and other topics. Instructor-led classes on forklift driving and computer skills take place at the Goodwill Learning Center on War Memorial Drive in Peoria. A second learning center is located in Galesburg. In 2008, more than 400 individuals received vocational services from the agency.

Goodwill also operates the General Wayne A. Downing Home for Veterans, the first permanent veterans’ housing unit in the state, which opened in 2005. The 10-bedroom facility provides veterans a place to live and a holistic environment for the rehabilitation of disabled veterans who have experienced difficulties finding employment.

Goodwill By the Numbers

3 donation centers
9 retail stores
21 counties
260 employees
440 participants served
193,074 donors of goods
452,348 shoppers
2,944,660 lbs kept from area landfills through recycling
7,700,000+ lbs of donated goods processed

(Source: Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois 2008 Annual Report)

The recipient of Peoria County’s 2008 commercial recycling award, Goodwill is well-known for its environmental programs, working diligently to ensure that unsold items do not end up in the landfill. “We recycle everything possible,” said Fuchs. “Anything that cannot be sold in our stores and is salvable is recycled. Much of what we recycle is handled by local salvage vendors. Some materials, such as textiles, have no local market and are recycled by out-of-state vendors.”

“Goodwill was green before ‘green’ was cool,” noted Armstrong. In 2008, the agency prevented nearly three million pounds of donations from being dumped into area landfills. A new partnership with Dell allows it to accept old computers, monitors and peripherals. Through the Dell-Reconnect program, which began earlier this year, Goodwill offers free recycling for any type of computer equipment.

A Solid Value
In a down economy, with people looking to get the most value for their money, retail traffic has picked up. “Our customers range from the mother of three trying to stretch the family budget to high school and college students who appreciate our green philosophy,” said Fuchs.

In August, Goodwill opened a new warehouse in East Peoria to accommodate its expanding inventory, while the old warehouse space at the War Memorial location will be converted into a job training center, furthering the agency’s mission. And in the end, that mission, enabled by your donations, is what it’s all about. a&s