SOUTH BEND — About 700 workers laid off from South Bend's A.J. Wright distribution center are looking ahead, and local organizations are leading the push to help them.
Mountains of snow hid the dozen or so cars in the parking lot outside A.J. Wright on Monday. It's a far cry from the hundreds of parked cars that filled the lot just a few months ago.
In December, company officials announced close to 700 workers would lose their jobs. These days, operations are over. The plant will close its doors for good on Tuesday.
Doreen Thompson, vice president of corporate communications for the TJX Companies, said in a statement to WSBT News:
"Our South Bend distribution center associates were released from their responsibilities over the past several weeks as the company wound down operations. At this time, we are no longer processing merchandise in South Bend and have concluded distribution activities. Some associates remain on site providing maintenance for the property. As committed, we have honored our obligation to pay employees through February 8, 2011 and remain deeply grateful to our distribution center associates for their hard work and dedication."
For the workers who lost their jobs, the search for work brought them to area WorkOne facilities.
On January 15, the South Bend Tribune reported WorkOne Rapid Response teams visited the complex to help workers file for unemployment benefits, resume assistance and look for jobs.
Those workers also turned to the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. Officials there say their need is at an all-time high. Some of the 700 workers turned to places like LaCasa De Amistad for help.
"I'm not surprised this is happening, because people want to better themselves," said Suleima Gonzalez, with LaCasa.
Gonzalez said the organization increased the number of computer classes and GED courses because of demand.
"They don't have a job, but they have opportunities to come back to school to open their world to new technology," said Gonzalez. "They are trying to succeed. They are looking for options, open opportunities. They're looking for anything and willing to learn everything so they can succeed."
Gonzalez said most of the people enrolled in their computer and GED courses are former A.J. Wright workers.
There are almost 20 students on a waiting list who are hoping to learn how to create a resume, use programs, type, even use a computer.
There are also English as a second language courses. People taking those courses are working to write and speak better English.
The demand is also high for LaCasa's food pantry program. 590 families signed up in January for assistance.