Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Whose Goodwill?

Everyone knows that Goodwill is a scam, right? Their mission is to give poor people job skills, and here’s how they operate: rich and middle-class people donate the shit they don’t want anymore, so that they can deduct it from their taxes (that shag area rug is totally worth $750), and then Goodwill takes this shit and sells it at overpriced rates to poor people. In 2007, Goodwill made $2 billion from this shit. Did you hear that? $2 billion went directly from poor people and bargain shoppers to this “nonprofit” that supposedly exists to train poor people in job skills. This nonprofit where the CEO is rumored to make over $1 million a year and regional heads make several hundred thousand or more. Why not just give the $2 billion out to poor people? Oh, right -- because it’s work that will set you free.

I go to Goodwill all the time -- there’s a store three blocks from my house, and if I go often enough I can find all sorts of things that I need and/or don’t need: glasses, plates, a lamp, an end table, children’s books, plastic flowers. So I love wandering around -- it’s a good distraction from how terrible I usually feel.

Unfortunately, in an era where public space disappears faster than you can say billionaire bankers bailout, Goodwill contains probably the most interesting cross-section of people in San Francisco -- tons of tweakers and transwomen and working-class people of color, young queers and old queers, toddlers and grandparents, people with homes and people without, people new to the city and people who’ve lived here forever and people who grew up here. Lots of madness -- some of it festive and some more desperate, but all somehow contained and enhanced by piles of discarded items now arranged for our consumer thrill.

I can’t remember exactly when this Goodwill first hired a security guard, but I think it was about five years ago. Now, it’s hard for me to imagine something more grotesque than a company that supposedly exists to provide services for poor people, hiring a security guard to make sure that these same poor people don’t steal any of the merchandise that Goodwill got for free! I mean -- how much are they paying the security guard? Anyway, from time to time he follows me around but I ignore him -- since we all look kind of suspicious here at Goodwill, the security guard actually follows most of us around.

But then the other day I was walking out of the store and someone yelled hey! Hey! I wasn’t paying attention, because there’s always a lot of noise in this neighborhood, but then it turns out it’s the security guard yelling at me, asking what I have underneath my arm -- this is my scarf and mittens, I say, the scarf and mittens that I wear every day! I hold it up to the two people working, who stare at me like they don’t know what to do, which is probably the worst part -- I mean I’ve smiled at these people literally hundreds of times at this point, and they can’t even say yes, that’s the scarf that lady wears every day. Of course, part of the Goodwill training seems to include making sure that the staff members treat customers like trash -- I’ve seen people start at the store all smiles and within a few weeks they’re making fun of customers with strong accents or yelling at people for taking too much time to pay.

I leave the store, and now I’m just angry.


chamblee54 said...

Do drag queens really steal gowns out of goodwill collection boxes?

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

I certainly hope so!

Love --

Adam Britt :o said...

The idea of having security guards anywhere is really foreign to me. In Arkansas, we don't really have them anywhere, except sometimes in big business buildings. Also, you don't own a wedding dress by any chance, do you? I really want one (well, a few actually) but I want to know how they hold up with every day wear and tear.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Adam, yes there are security guards everywhere here -- and I feel so secure!

I used to have a whole pile of wedding dresses that I got at a thrift store in Boston for a dollar a pound, but none of them fit me really so I put them all on the wall :)

Generally wedding dresses are pretty fragile -- there for that one special moment, right?

Love --

mitzi said...

whoa this is kind of an intense post mattilda. it sucks to be a target of security culture and it really is ridics that goodwill is hiring security guards but your discussion of the employees sounds really gross.

i think the issue of non-profit executive payment is important. important enough that i'm not sure the typical "ZOMG, so and so makes $XXX a minute!!" kind of discussion is really useful. maybe you could elaborate on what you think fair compensation looks like in our current world? certainly fair isn't the low-wage that the checkers are being paid but what is too much?

by the way, goodwill's 2007 IRS 990 form is available freely on their website. it looks like the CEO makes just shy of $500,000/yr.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Mitzi, when you say "your discussion of the employees sounds really gross," do you mean their behavior, or me me me? Please clarify, if you don't mind...

Oh, and how did I miss that IRS form -- thanks for clarifying...

Aha -- executive pay -- personally, I don't think Goodwill shouldn't have executives, or to be more clear I think that it is a hideous and exploitative operation, and any supposed benefits they provide could be much more useful if the whole operation was restructured so that the people supposedly benefiting are actually the people running it. A lot could be done with that $2 billion per year...

Love --

Ahma Daeus said...

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For more information please visit: http://www.npsctapp.blogsppot.com or email: williamthomas@exconciliation.com
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William Thomas
National Community Outreach Facilitator
The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
P.O. Box 156423
San Francisco, California 94115

Anonymous said...

This post makes me glad that our Goodwill up here doesn't have security gaurds. But then I have to ask...how long until we get one?

Goodwill is the midling second hand in town. Below it is Salvation Army. Above it is Value Village.

What does it say when one starts categorizing these shops?

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Yes yes they need about 16 security guards in Bellingham, very dangerous!

I love thrift stores -- I just don't love it when they're so exploitative...