When a local manufacturer closed its doors a few years back, it also cut work for dozens of people employed by a Somerset nonprofit that trains and finds jobs for folks serviced by Bedford-Somerset Mental Health/Mental Retardation.
On Wednesday, some of them were hard at work once again in the former Gilmour location on Industrial Park Road. But this time, they were working on a brand new task: shredding stacks of documents that are packaged for shipment to an Ohio paper mill that recycles them into new products.
“This is a celebration,” workshop director Jackie O’Conner said during a ribbon-cutting at Somerset County Workshop’s new Shred Express facility at the county industrial park.
The nonprofit has spent nearly two years working to get to this point, planning the shredding business, obtaining document-shredding certification and more recently, training those qualified within their workforce of “consumers” to handle paper packaging, weighing and shredding tasks.
“We have about 15 to 20 disabled individuals working here regularly now – some once a week, some five days a week,” O’Conner said, noting they pay staff minimum wage or per bin of paper processed, depending on their job.
Behind her, five workers loaded thin stacks of documents through oversized electronic shredders. The shredded remains travel up a conveyor belt and then drop into a machine that compresses and binds the paper into up to 1,200-pound bales.
The documents are coming to Shred Express from a growing number of companies that need paper shredded, O’Conner said, noting medical and legal paperwork must then have notarized documentation that they were destroyed.
Companies contracting with it to shred and ship the documents pay per pound or per-container rates that enable Somerset Workshop to keep the plant running, she added.
“Our consumers are still learning, but some of them are shredding 150 pounds an hour,” she said.
Commissioner John Vatavuk said he was impressed with the new operation.
“The workshop nonprofit has been through some tough times, by their own admission,” he said. “The fact this is providing new work for people, provides a way to get rid of documents locally and it means recycling – it makes this a great project.”
Somerset County Workshop secured a $140,000 Department of Environmental Protection recycling grant and received a 10 percent match through Somerset MH/MR to get the project off the ground, O’Conner said.
Shred Express is just one of a handful of projects workers handle. Others include doing packaging, labeling and other work for companies like Slinky and Wheeler Bros.
Approximately 90 workers – many referred by Somerset County MH/MR – are employed by the nonprofit, O’Conner said.
“We feel really good about how things are going,” she said.
“Orders keep coming in. We think we’re going to be a lot busier next year.”
David Hurst is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst.