Goodwill South Florida Making a difference

We at would like to acknowledge companies who are going beyond everyday expectations. 

The universal spirit of cooperation is the greatest weapon to defeat the virus and overcome the crisis. 

I interviewed Mark Marchioli, Vice President of Business Development at Goodwill Industries of South Florida.   You can also check out their LinkedIn page for more information.

How do you see the role of business leaders in the fight against the pandemic? 

How we see our role at Goodwill South Florida is two-pronged. We have a responsibility to ensure our workforce is protected and safe, and a responsibility to help the community as we all work through this pandemic together.

We’ve taken steps in both regards over the past six weeks, whether immediately sanitizing all of our sewing operator workspaces, increasing space between stations, installing vinyl partitions between operators, and stepping in to fill the void of providing PPE for our local hospital partners who have been affected by this pandemic.

What types of medical supplies are you producing? 

We just finished production of 30,000 Level 1 isolation gowns needed by Baptist Health here in the Miami area and are producing 20,000+ reusable fabric masks that we are making, including over 10,000 for Ryder Corporation, who is one of our business partners and our Apparel Manufacturing Division is also named after.

In the past did your organization have a manufacturing capability? 

We are one of the largest military apparel manufacturers in the US, employing over 1,000 people and producing over one million items annually, from the Army Combat Uniform, Advanced Combat Shirt, to the internment flag provided to our veterans’ families upon their passing.

Over the years, we have developed a strong skill set to produce very complex garments and support the manufacturing and development efforts of our Government clients.

Tell us about your workers who are doing this and the challenges they face?

As a 501(c)(3) non-profit social enterprise, our mission is to provide employment opportunities to people with disabilities and other barriers to employment in the South Florida area. As such, over 75% of our apparel manufacturing workforce has a government-defined disability and is likely to have an underlying health issue.

We are very sensitive to our workforce that we serve and the health challenges they face with the current CoVid-19 pandemic. We’re trying to balance their safety with their ability to earn a paycheck and support their families.

We’ve established a Goodwill Employee Emergency Fund to help our employees during this time and have relied on the generosity of our community to support this effort, and we’ve found some success there to help bridge the gap for our apparel workforce and the workforce across our five lines of businesses that we operate in South Florida.

How do you maintain the virus protocols?  Social distancing, washing hands frequently, etc.? 

Every company has had to adapt and will only continue to do so. Being designated an essential business by state and federal governments has required us to implement workforce protection protocols quickly and effectively.

We had to shut down our production plant for two weeks, during which time we disinfected the entire facility and all equipment within it. We’ve also installed vinyl partitions separating each sewing operator, similar to what you see in grocery stores now; increased space between operators to at least six feet; required the wearing of masks within the facility; increased focus on hand washing and sanitizing of workspaces; implemented social distancing measures during breaks and entering and leaving the facility; we are staggering our shifts to reduce the influx of people entering and exiting the building at one time.

We’ve been very busy implementing these changes!

What adaptations did you have to make in order to produce medical supplies? 

We established a temporary production line to specifically support the medical gowns and reusable fabric masks. We really focused on making sure that we were smart with this. We wanted to provide PPE to meet the near term need with minimal changes to our equipment so that we could quickly transition back to other products when needed.

How difficult was it for you to transition your production lines? 

We run a complex production operation at normal times, so we are used to juggling multiple priorities and challenges at the same time! We were able to quickly adapt since we focused on textile-based PPE items. I can imagine the challenges faced by other manufacturers that do not have a background in PPE or textiles and the challenges they may have faced, and I applaud them for that effort!

Did you have any supply chain problems? 

That was our biggest challenge. Luckily, we ended up partnering with other companies that had acceptable material to use for the PPE.

For example, we used existing nylon/cotton blend material from an old production lot for the outer reusable mask layer. It was rough against the skin, so we reached out to our hospital linen supplier for the medical laundry facility that we operate, and they were able to quickly provide cotton bed linen fabric that was softer against the skin for the inner layer of the mask.

We had to find ways to be creative and leverage across the entire business to find solutions.

Does your company have the ability to continue this generous activity for as long is necessary?  

We’ll continue as long as it is feasible and necessary for both us and our hospital partners.

We’re already starting to see the effects of the Asian markets re-opening and production restarting there. We’re hopeful that will help to bring more much-needed PPE to the front-lines and bring the prices we’re seeing out there for surgical masks and gowns back down to pre-CoVid-19 levels.

Do you foresee having to make medical supplies other than what you are currently making? 

We’re always looking at ways to adapt our business to service our customers better and provide new job opportunities for those people we serve.

I think our local South Florida hospital partners, who previously knew us through our laundering operation, have realized what a strong partner we are and the unique ways we can support them. We’re investigating ways where we can help in the long-term and we’ll see where that takes us.

But yes, we believe that our special set of skills and strong infrastructure allows us to be uniquely positioned to fill the void and offer a quicker response when medical supplies are in great demand.

How do you allocate the finished product? 

Since we focused our resources on impacting locally, we were able to step up and support the local hospitals and the City of Miami when asked. Fortunately, we were able to help when called upon.

I am sure the community is more than grateful for your efforts; can you tell us some of your personal feelings?  How do you feel about this? 

Since we are a community-focused non-profit, we’re very involved in South Florida. Not only are we one of the top 15 employers in the market, our focus on providing jobs to those who need them most draws a strong connection with our community.

It’s important to be able to be there and to give back to your neighbors in times of need. I’ve been so impressed with how our community has responded, with kindness and generosity, not only to our employees that we serve and often who need it most, but also to the front-line responders in the medical fields, grocery stores, and other essential businesses, that have put their health at risk for the sake of the rest of us.

It truly shows what a great community in the South Florida area is!

If people would like to contribute to what you are doing, how can they?

We’ve had so many employees impacted by this. Out of the 3,300 that we employ through five lines of business, including our apparel manufacturing division, we’ve had to furlough over 2,600.

The driving factors of this is a result of the city mandating the closure of our donated goods retail locations and a reduction in customer demand in other businesses.

We established the Goodwill Employee Emergency Fund to help cover and maintain health care costs for our employees during this time and until we can get them back to work.

The community’s response has been truly impressive so far, but we still have a need to help our employee’s through. You can donate to the fund at “COVID-19, They need Us and We need You.” Every bit helps

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