Wafts of frosting, sugar and butter swirled in the air on a recent Thursday morning as loud mixers roared in the background. In the corner, Jasmine Garcia, 33, of Flushing, Queens, wearing an oversize green sweater, a white apron, gloves and a hairnet, carefully placed delicately decorated cupcakes in plastic containers.
Working five hours a day, four days a week at a Magnolia Bakery warehouse in Queens is a release for Garcia, who has a 2-year-old son at home.
"I'm happy here," she said.
She started the position with Magnolia in October. She had worked for retailer TJMaxx before she took time off to have her child.
Garcia is one of the hundreds of workers across the region who has received job-placement assistance from Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey. The nonprofit has helped her with career training for about eight years, and it orchestrated her most-recent spot with Magnolia.
Since last spring roughly 33 million Americans quit their jobs, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the Great Resignation. As a result, employers have been on the hunt for workers and are looking deeper into a pool of candidates they might have otherwise overlooked.
That's where Goodwill NYNJ steps in.
Goodwill Industries International is a human services nonprofit that most people know from its retail stores, where one can drop off household goods and clothes as donations.
However, its local chapters provide internships, career training, coaching and job placement. For example, Goodwill NYNJ works to help underemployed residents like Garcia, as well as people with a mental illness or disabilities, find employment.
"We believe in not leaving any talent on the sidelines," said Katy Gaul-Stigge, the local organization's President and CEO.
In 2020 Goodwill NYNJ helped train and mentor 14,000 residents and placed 700 in positions with employers such as hospitals, drugstores, warehouses, and tech and accounting firms. Last year it placed 821 in jobs, including 549 individuals with disabilities, a 17% increase from the previous year.
Once a person with a disability gains employment, the retention rate is 92%, Gaul-Stigge said, because of the structure that working provides.
"People with disabilities are proud and excited to be [at a job], and like all of us, they like the routine, the social impacts and the power," she said.
Already this year, candidates are thriving in positions across the region, said Karaneh Ashourizadegan, senior job developer at Goodwill NYNJ. She has placed workers at Red Rabbit, a school food-management program, and HomeGoods. One job was at Cricket's Candy Creations, a pop-up experience that uses confections as a tool to engage children in learning.
Now working hard at Magnolia Bakery, Garcia credits Goodwill for providing her with training. Amy Tamulonis, Magnolia's general manager, said Garcia is a terrific employee.
"She is very thorough and efficient," Tamulonis said. "We are thrilled she's on our team."
It can be difficult to fill handling and packing roles in fulfillment centers, said Victoria Keough, vice president of human resources for the bakery, which began working with the nonprofit last summer. It hired two employees through Goodwill NYNJ and hopes to continue the relationship.
The jobs "are hard to fill, and there is high turnover," she said. "The fact that we were able to hire through Goodwill and have long-term employees we can develop along with the support of a coach has proven successful for us."