Following him into the office building with the rack of clean garments, smiling, and excited to see his customers, it would be hard not to imagine that Matt has been doing this for over ten years. A seasoned veteran when it comes to delivering dry cleaning, Matt loves his job, and can think of nothing he’d rather do.
But Matt is no ordinary delivery man.
For the past 10 years, White Way/St Croix Cleaners has worked with Merrick Inc., a local charity based in Vadnais Heights, to offer mentally handicapped employees a chance to be a part of the community.
Merrick offers mentally handicapped individuals opportunities for community inclusion and participation, social relationships, skill building, and/or person futures. Each individual is assessed based on their unique passions, values, gifts, interests, skills and preferences so they are placed within a job that aligns with their needs. At White Way and St Croix Cleaners, about 8 individuals help with the delivery services.
“Each person has their own individual delivery stops and customers.” Amy Jacobsen, one of the managers and delivery drivers explains. Four days each week, the crew packs up the finished garments at White Way’s main plant on 7th Street in St Paul. They will then deliver the garments to apartments, condos, office buildings and residential areas, while picking up new bags to be checked in and cleaned for the following days.
Today he is dressed in nice black pants with a burgundy White Way jacket embroidered with his name. Matt was born with Downs Syndrome, but has never let that set him back. He tells me today (Tuesday) is his busy day. He knows all his clients, exactly where to place their clean clothes and where to pick up the dirty. He knows all their names, and their garage codes. He tries to make sure he can listen to Johnny Cash on the Radio at 12:15 each lunch hour.
His favorite part of the job is meeting new people. He tells me one of his stops is at a retirement home where he is able to talk with all the people there and they sometimes give him popcorn.
He looks and acts very professional, even showing me his homemade business card. This week he is a Ranger, while last week he was a Police Chief, and the week before, a Blacksmith. Before he loads the van with the recently cleaned garments, taking great care as though they were his own, he tells me about John, the White Way employee with whom he says is his good friend. They have “man-to-man talks” and he explains that John is even teaching him how to use the computer.
When Matt isn’t working, he is an avid musician. He likes to “Just mess around” playing guitar and using the turntables in his basement, both of which he claims he is pretty good at. “But not as good as Johnny Cash!” Matt claims, and tells me that he makes sure to listen to the 12:15 lunch hour on K102 each work day when the delivery van is driving around.
Matt is proud of his regular customers, whom he has known since he started working the delivery truck. There is nothing else he’d rather be doing, saying “I like it here.”
“A lot of customers have cards, treats and even Christmas presents for Matt and the others,” Amy says. The relationship between White Way/St Croix Cleaners and Merrick has been extremely beneficial for everyone involved, and is expected to continue for years to come. “It gets [these individuals] out into the community. They’re not just people with disabilities.”