The Goodwill store and donation center in the Town of Tonawanda’s Colvin-Eggert Plaza just grew in size by about 30 percent, which means it can accept and house a lot more of the affordably priced treasures it’s known for. And that in turn means it can provide more members of the local community with what can’t be bought: self-esteem and self-sufficiency.
“Everything we do is about jobs,” said Linda Maraszek, marketing and community relations manager for Goodwill of Western New York.
Goodwill stores accept donations of gently used merchandise – everything from clothing and kids’ toys to housewares and home furnishings – that is then resold at a deep discount. Nearly 90 percent of the proceeds support workforce development programs across the region. Those with “barriers to employment” are trained and placed in jobs, often within the Goodwill organization.“Goodwill is a starting point,” Maraszek said. “We employ people in our stores, or in shipping or recycling. Some do janitorial work. They are given entry into their careers.”
The Colvin-Eggert location remained open while it underwent the months-long renovation earlier this year. Staff celebrated its expansion with a Nov. 12 ribbon-cutting.
“We’ve been here since 2009,” Maraszek said. “The store was getting outdated, and we were outgrowing it.” The store, run by a staff of 15, now has 10,000 square feet of newly painted, brightly lit retail space. It still sells mostly donated goods but now offers some new items, as well, like socks and lingerie – all at fractions of their original cost.
In 2017, Goodwill of Western New York’s 21 donation centers collected about 8.8 million pounds of goods from more than 220,000 donors, while 622 individuals participated in its employment programs.
Maraszek said many of Goodwill’s workforce development clients were born into a cycle of poverty. They were raised in families and communities where education was limited, where role models were rare and decent-paying jobs scarce. They weren’t taught as teens how to draft resumes or submit applications. And their neighborhoods offered little in the way of networking opportunities. But the vast majority of them want desperately to work, Maraszek added. They want to support themselves and their children with honestly earned wages.
“We give a hand up, not a hand out,” she said.
Clients are shown how to dress professionally. They learn to manage a 9-to-5 routine, and all the juggling that can go along with that: arranging childcare, securing transportation, waking up on time every day.“These are the skills a lot of us take for granted, because growing up we had family members and neighbors modeling them for us,” Maraszek said.
The Colvin-Eggert Goodwill features a sea of clothing racks, packed with brand-name pieces. On Monday, there was a North Face t-shirt for $4, a selection of Joseph A. Banks button-downs each in the $9 range, plus some Adidas and Land’s End. Donations never go to waste; if they’re too worn to sell, they can be recycled – or repurposed, often by fashion students at Buffalo State College, with whom Goodwill frequently partners.
Pictured: Alycia Larsen and her son Koda
Thrifting is no longer a shopper’s dirty secret, either. With minimalism and eco-friendliness at the fore, second-hand stores are considered trendy, especially among young people like Alycia Larsen. “You find a lot of good buys here,” said Larsen, a Lockport resident who frequents the area’s bigger Goodwill stores, like Tonawanda’s. She was browsing the shoes and purses earlier this week, while her young son Koda happily eyed the puzzles and stuffed animals. Next she went on to the shelves of books and board games, then the jewelry counters. There were dining sets, patio loveseats, winter coats, hand-blown glass vases and shiny Christmas ornaments. Another shopper came in for a cookbook and soon had a pile of clothing in her cart. “There is always something new here,” she said, declining to give her name since she was “supposed to be at work.”She appreciates the low prices, too, and has been known to pay that generosity forward. She’ll buy nicer garments during the holidays, wrap them up and deliver them to the Buffalo City Mission.
“You may be done with an item,” Maraszek said, “but someone else might want to start with it.”