• Jordan D. Smith

Goodwill Store Responds to Pandemic


It’s an old story by now that COVID-19 has touched nearly every part of our daily lives. That touch has extended even as far as something as simple as donating a box of old clothes or housewares to charity. When stay-at-home orders went into effect in March of this year closing nearly all retail stores and businesses, Goodwill in Portland was also affected. Since that time the doors have remained closed.


We reached out to Jill Wallace, Chief Marketing Officer of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids to learn more. Wallace is one of the leaders of the parent organization which oversees and operates more than 20 thrift stores across mid-Michigan. While most of their stores are in the greater Grand Rapids area they oversee locations as far-flung as Mount Pleasant, Big Rapids, and even Portland. According to Wallace, the Portland Goodwill is the smallest of their locations.


That small size is one reason the local Goodwill remains closed despite the fact that restrictions on retail have been lifted. That small footprint means a small number of employees as well, which means that as staff members got sick or had to quarantine that staffing such a small store quickly became untenable while larger stores have more staff to fill in for sick or quarantining coworkers. Early on, they tried adjusting to limited hours to accommodate staff sickness, but it quickly became clear that it was not a sustainable strategy to have irregular business hours.


Wallace reports that all the employees at the Portland store are currently employed and none were laid off. Some staff members moved to the Ionia Goodwill, while others have successfully moved on to work for other employers. While the Portland store is closed for retail and donations, a few employees remain working to sort donated goods from other locations that are brought to Portland for processing before being sent on to other stores.


Early on this year, with many of us staying home and passing the time by cleaning out our closets, basements, or garage, Goodwill stores were closed for donations due to restrictions on retails businesses. Locally this led to some well-intentioned people leaving donated goods outside the entrance in the elements where they were damaged and ultimately destroyed. According to Wallace, this unfortunate sight was repeated at every single Goodwill location across mid-Michigan prompting her and the other three executive officers to personally go from store to store cleaning up the mess.


As COVID restrictions were lifted and people continued donating goods, early on Goodwill quarantined donations for three days. Now they have transitioned to spraying down and disinfecting donations. In addition, at locations that are open, donations are now touchless with donors being directed by staff where to unload so that staff can maintain physical distancing.

Like all manner of businesses and organizations, the pandemic has hit Goodwill’s bottom line. “Donations are up but sales are down. Right now if you went to Goodwill that is open you’d find more treasures than ever before,” says Wallace. “I won’t sugar coat it, our sales are not great,” she continued, “...not even close to what we budgeted for....”


That budget is about more than profits for Goodwill, which operates with the goal of aiding job searchers find gainful employment. “Our job training and placement programs are everything for us. That’s why we have retail stores,” said Wallace. Currently, Goodwill staff are providing many training programs online and continuing to aid job searchers. In the coming year, Wallace says she sees that need increasing and hopefully transitioning back to in-person training.


While there is no date set for reopening the Portland store at this time Wallace says they remain “mindful, and grateful and thankful,” for the support of the Portland community. To find an open Goodwill donation center or retail store visit goodwillgr.org.

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