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Charities to cut programs and jobs

Goodwill will stop picking up used furniture. Metropolitan Ministries will end a program that helps homeless men.

By GRAHAM BRINK and MARK ALBRIGHT

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2003


Two major Tampa Bay area charities announced significant changes Monday designed to keep them financially secure.

Goodwill Industries-Suncoast Inc. is ending a 48-year-old program of picking up used furniture. Goodwill, which serves 10 counties in west-central Florida, says most of what it retrieves is junk that costs the charity more money to dispose. The decision will eliminate about 50 jobs.

Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa, facing a huge decline in donations, has decided to lay off 15 employees and close down a program that helps homeless men.

"This is a generous community and has been very good to the people we serve," said Morris Hintzman, president of Metropolitan Ministries. "This is not intended to be ungrateful to the community, but we had to make a decision before things got out of control."

Last year at this time, the ministry had raised about $4-million. This year, the total is closer to $3-million. The charity could not make up the deficit by simple belt-tightening, he said. More substantial measures were needed, he said.

The 15 layoffs, plus the elimination of five currently empty positions, will reduce the payroll from 106 employees to 86, Hintzman said. The downturn in donations was the worst Hintzman had experienced in 20 years with the charity.

The layoffs came mostly from staff who worked in the single men's residential program, a six-month program that helps men with vocational training, substance abuse and job placement, among other things. About 100 to 150 men started the program each year, although some would drop out before completion.

The program will be phased out over the next couple of months.

Metropolitan Ministries was founded in 1972 by 13 downtown Tampa churches to serve homeless people or those at risk of becoming homeless.

Today, the charity, among other things, runs a shelter for up to 44 families and programs for adult education, mentoring and drug and alcohol recovery. It also has 20 meal sites, prepares thousands of meals each week and operates a food and toy drive during the holiday season. Those programs will continue to operate, Hintzman said.

Donations account for about 92 percent of the total budget. About 8 percent of its funding comes from the government. More than 80 percent of donations come from individuals and companies; only 4 percent, from congregations. Much of the support comes from non-Christians.

Last January, a controversy erupted over the charity's policy that barred non-Christians from serving on the board of directors.

TECO Energy, a major contributor, told the charity that unless the bylaw was changed, the company couldn't give any money in the future to a group that discriminated on the basis of religion. After months of discussion and debate, the board voted in April to do away with the policy.

Today, at least three board members are non-Christians, and the charity is open to more, Hintzman said.

TECO did not give the charity any money in 2002, said spokeswoman Laura Plumb. In a recession, the company often has fewer dollars to donate, she said. Given that TECO had just finished giving Metropolitan Ministries $1-million, it would not be unusual for the company to target other charities needing support, she said.

"We try to spread our philanthropy across as many worthy organizations as we can," Plumb said.

The controversy might have discouraged some people from making donations, but the overall effect was likely minimal, Hintzman said.

In the case of Goodwill, the problem was that many of the donations were basically worthless.

Two out of every three sofas picked up by the nonprofit corporation had to be carted to the dump, where Goodwill ended up paying solid waste disposal fees.

Goodwill-Suncoast, which employs 1,200 people, meets about half of its annual budget by selling new or donated goods at 18 stores spread over 10 counties in west-central Florida. The rest comes from government grants.

About 50 employees, about half of them disabled workers who work at the regional headquarters in St. Petersburg, face layoffs as the pickup service unit is disbanded.

"It is a sad day here at Goodwill," said Michael Ann Harvey, marketing director at Goodwill-Suncoast. "It was a very painful decision to make, but we are trying to transfer as many employees as we can and offering severance and job retraining services to those we cannot."

The change is part of a decentralization of Goodwill services nationwide. More than half of Goodwill's donations come from dozens of trailers located in shopping center parking lots. That network remains unchanged.

But instead of trucking donated goods to a central distribution center for sorting and minor repair work, Goodwill is shifting more of the work to its stores.

New Goodwill Superstores in Brandon, Ocala and Lakeland are the wave of the future. The larger 25,000-square-foot stores offer an assortment of used goods and new budget-priced merchandise. They also have drive-ins similar to a dry cleaner for motorists bringing in donated goods.

Regionally, donations have increased 4 percent because of goods dropped off at the superstores, Harvey said. In the decentralization, Goodwill has added 150 jobs at its stores over the past 18 months.

Many other charities such as the Salvation Army or thrift stores continue to dispatch trucks to pick up donated goods for resale. In many cities such as St. Petersburg, sanitation crews also will cart off old furniture for free with a few days' advance notice.

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