IOWA CITY — Last year, the 17 Goodwill retail stores in southeast Iowa and southwest Illinois collected more than 38 million pounds of donations.
“Because of our long history and our retail presence, that’s what most people know about Goodwill,” said Jessica Schamberger, vice president of operations for Goodwill of the Heartland, which covers that region. “And that’s a good thing. I think it allows us to have some very generous community support.”
But there’s more to Goodwill than retail outlets. Just in this region, Goodwill provides janitorial services to the Herbert Hoover Museum and Library and the Davenport federal courthouse, and contract manufacturing with companies including Whirlpool, Collins Aerospace and Nordstrom Direct. Those contracts help serve Goodwill’s mission of helping people overcome barriers to independence.
Now, Goodwill of the Heartland is entering a new industry: vegetable oil packaging.
Schamberger said the Johnson County venture is expected to create about 40 jobs, half of them to be filled by people with significant disabilities.
“In creating these jobs and training opportunities, we want to build a pipeline of talent for area manufacturers,” she said. “It’s an industry that needs workforce, and they need a skilled workforce.”
Goodwill will lease a facility at 3800 Second St. between Coralville and Tiffin. The location once was home to FS Feeds and Hawkeye Food Service Distribution.
Once remodeling is complete, Schamberger said, Goodwill will purchase soybean oil from companies “with deep roots in Iowa,” such as ADM, AGP or Cargill. Goodwill will then receive truckloads of refined soybean oil to be stored in a 30,000 to 40,000 gallon storage tank. The oil will be pumped into the facility, fortified with vitamins A and D and deposited in 4-liter steel cans.
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“It’s our responsibility to get the oil to the Port of Chicago or Port of Houston,” Schamberger said.
Goodwill is packaging the vegetable oil for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s international and domestic food aid program. The oil will be sent to more than 70 countries and 80 million people around the world who are food insecure.
The contract with the USDA is expected to bring in approximately $18 million annually for Goodwill, Schamberger said. The contract was made possible through a federal set-aside program called AbilityOne, which is designed to create jobs for people with significant disabilities. According to its website, AbilityOne has a network of more than 550 nonprofit agencies that provides the government with products and services.
Schamberger said Goodwill initially pursued the contract in 2013, but wasn’t selected. When the nonprofit that was picked didn’t manage to launch its business, the opportunity was presented again in 2017. Goodwill of the Heartland was awarded the contract in July 2017.
Schamberger said Goodwill was responsible for shipping 7.4 million products last year and has had a 100 percent on-time delivery rating for the last 11 years.
“That commercial performance is what positioned us to get this soybean oil contract, I believe,” she said.
In addition to the job creation and humanitarian impact, Schamberger said she believes the contract will benefit Iowans more broadly. Goodwill will be taking a product grown and refined in Iowa and packaging it in locally or regionally sourced materials.
“There’s an economic impact at home,” she said.
It also will create an additional revenue stream for Goodwill beyond the contracts it already has, said Mindy Kayser, vice president of marketing.
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“Right now, our income is over 70 percent our retail business,” Kayser said. “And so this allows us to diversify our revenue streams and become more sustainable long-term as a nonprofit. Obviously, we all know the retail landscape is ever-changing. I think it’s really important for us to look at other sources of income so we can sustain ourselves long-term and our mission can continue.”
Though fair market prices will have to be negotiated with the USDA annually, Schamberger said the contract with the USDA is long-term. The equipment line used to package the soybean oil also can handle other liquid packaging, opening up other contract opportunities, she said.
“It’s our intent to grow the customer base, to do more work for the USDA, perhaps the Department of Defense, and then commercial companies through some private label packaging or co-packing,” she said.
Kayser said the soybean oil packaging initiative has received gifts from private individuals, as well as from area organizations such as Collins Aerospace, Diamond V, Johnson County, Procter & Gamble and Kemin Industries. The city of Coralville plans to give a $500,000 forgivable loan to Goodwill for the project once it has an occupancy permit, said Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth.
“It’s a really good project,” Hayworth said. “A significant portion of the jobs will go to individuals with disabilities. I think that’s obviously a good thing. It’s a significant number of jobs for the community in general. It’s putting to use a building that’s been empty for some time. It’s an Iowa product and they’re shipping it all over the world. I think there’s a lot to like about this project.”
Schamberger said Goodwill currently is selecting contractors, and equipment will be purchased in the coming months. It hopes to have a plant director in place by October. Schamberger said the intent is for operations to begin in April or May 2020.
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