The garment industry is alive and well in South Florida, if you know where to look. Goodwill South Florida runs a huge factory making military uniforms, flags, and much more. If you thought the agency just ran thrift stores, you were only seeing half the picture. The profits from those 36 stores in Broward and Miami-Dade fuel the heart of the non-profit organization.
"So what we do is basically teach people how to work, figure out what they're good at, teach them some skills, do some job coaching, and we focus on people with disabilities and we're really more about an agency not only teaching folks how to work but really to give people hope and opportunity," said Lourdes Little, the VP of marketing for Goodwill South Florida.
In one section of the factory floor, there are rows upon rows of sewing machines, each working on one phase of manufacturing combat pants for United States military personnel. For some of the workers here, this is a way of saying thanks to our troops.
"It's an exciting feeling, you know it's a worthwhile feeling to know what I do, someone appreciates," said Goodwill employee Terry Newmones, as he worked at his sewing machine.
In another area, workers with more severe disabilities were threading drawstrings into the pant leg cuffs. The work may seem incredibly monotonous, but for a disabled person with few if any employment options, working at Goodwill means they have a job, they get a paycheck, and they have a source of pride as well.
Terry Newmones is blind. His sewing machine is specially adapted for his disability. He says before Goodwill hired him, he relied solely on government assistance. Now he says he's contributing to society and to the economy.
"When Goodwill hired me, I was able to live a better life, I was able to travel, I was able to buy other things that I wanted instead of only having money for the things I needed to have," Newmones said.
In another part of the same building, Goodwill workers are helping to assemble the Miami Herald newspaper. Downstairs, mentally impaired workers are stuffing spices into jars, part of a contract the agency has with a local spice company.
The agency has more than 3,000 employees in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and about 75% of them are disabled or have significant barriers to employment.
Some of those workers make a special version of the American flag at the same Miami building. You've seen Old Glory draped over military caskets. You probably didn't know those flags come from Alapattah.
"It's a very special flag because it represents our independence for this country, but at the same time it's a nice parallel to the people that work here because they, too, come here to seek their own independence in a way," Little said.
You can show your own goodwill by donating to the charity of your choice on this Giving Tuesday. Little recommends doing research on Give.com or Charitynavigator.org before donating to any agency, to make sure it's legitimate.
Goodwill South Florida is currently hiring, so if there's a person in your life who is unable to work in a regular job, this could be a great opportunity.