WAYNE — The Foundation for the Handicapped’s workshop was bustling on Wednesday afternoon as employees quietly worked at their stations, sealing packages, assembling boxes and preparing jobs for the next day.
The workers at the Woodridge Terrace workshop are part-time subcontractors who perform necessary packaging, manufacturing and mail fulfillment services for companies, typically at a lower cost.
Many of the employees are paid by piece for most assembly work, whether it’s filling envelopes or heat-sealing packages, said Executive Director Charles Grant. The majority of the 29 employees work several days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with breaks throughout the work day.
A few of the workers drive, while many use transportation services for the handicapped such as Access Link. Still others take NJ Transit to work, walking the final distance from Valley Road to the workshop at the dead end of Woodridge Terrace. Some live with family, while others reside in group homes.
Unlike some workshops that employ individuals with physical and developmental disabilities, the Wayne shop is not funded by the state or federal government.
“A lot of workshops that do this get state or federal aid, or both. When our founding fathers started they said they wanted to stay away from that. We’ve been able to survive so far,” said Grant, executive director since 2013, following various volunteer positions within the organization. Income from the work contracts makes up about two-thirds of its budget, he added, and the remainder comes from fundraising and donations.
Wayne’s Rotary and Lions clubs have also been instrumental in supporting the workshop, said Grant. The Rotary became involved in the organization when it was born in Haledon in 1964, first as a vocational and job placement organization for the handicapped, and eventually a 650-square-foot workshop on Woodridge Terrace.
More than 40 years later, the footprint of the former sewerage disposal plant is now an 8,000-square-foot workshop with a full-size loading dock and turnout for large trucks.
The early months of the year typically mark a lull in orders for the foundation, said Grant, but 2017 has been busy so far, with a half-dozen jobs in the pipeline ranging from heat-sealing combs to packaging products for store displays, and assembly kits of vehicle electronics. Work contracts come from across the area, from small mailing projects within the township to packaging goods from businesses in Paterson, New York, and Iowa.
Gloria Acker, an employee of 40 years, said some companies supply work on a constant basis, while others appear perennially, with the occasional one-time “job.”
However, the foundation continues to seek out new business. The turnaround time for an average order is about two weeks, said Grant.
Depending on ability, some workers can make $60 to $80 a week for piece work, while those who work at a slower pace may make less. Several of the workers are paid at the hourly minimum wage, said Grant, though the foundation holds a certificate which allows the workshop to pay employees less for the piece work.
That translates to savings for the companies which outsource the work to the workshop, according to its website. There is also the incentive of “doing the right thing” on the part of businesses, said volunteer Frank Minutolo, while getting necessary work done.
“These people want to work,” he said.
The employees, who all receive a Social Security Income benefit or food stamps according to Grant, said they enjoy the work but have their own favorite projects.
At the rear of the workshop Steven Henry of Pompton Plains, who first set foot in the workshop in 2001, was heat sealing hair combs in plastic bags.
“I just put it in and press down and it seals it” in a matter of seconds, he said while demonstrating. Henry sealed about 1,000 of them by the end of his work day, according to the scale calibrated to make the piece counting quicker. That works out to about $25.
Plant Manager Marlene Baez said the work atmosphere is like being with “family” and enjoys the bustle that comes with a high volume of work orders.
“I love it here. It’s hectic, but I love it,” said the employee of 10 years. She said she began at the foundation as a volunteer shortly after her son Jason was hired for piece work.
Slowly she found herself spending more days at the workshop, she added. Now, as plant manager, she supervises the employees, assists them with setting up materials and also trains them on new tasks.
For those jobs requiring counting in particular, Baez and Grant make accommodations such as counting grids and numbering bins to help workers keep track.
“They all help each other and check on each other’s [work]” too, said Grant.
Businesses interested in outsourcing work to the foundation may contact Charles Grant or Marlene Baez for a work quote or to schedule a tour by calling at 973-956-1313 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.