LC Industries closure leaves many holesPublished 12:03am Saturday, January 25, 2014
NATCHEZ — For 10 years, Shawanda Washington packed plastic forks, knives and spoons into bags in the basement of the Natchez senior citizen center.
Her job at LC Industries was something the 40-year-old Natchez native looked forward to every day. So when she and seven other visually-impaired employees at LC Industries received letters just days before Christmas notifying them the company would be shutting its doors in Natchez, Washington said she was devastated.
“I was very hurt, very disappointed,” she said. “Now, I have nothing to look forward to.
“You go from 10 years of work to nothing.”
LC Industries, headquartered in Durham, N.C., has operations in 10 states and was started in 1936 by the Durham Lions Club to provide job opportunities for people who are legally blind.
The company opened an operation downstairs in the Natchez Senior Citizen Multipurpose Center in 1991. The employees sorted and packaged flatware and assembled tape dispensers and other items for the military.
Supervisor Anna Fountain, who oversaw the employees’ work, had been at the company for 20 years.
Fountain said she received a letter stating the Natchez operation would be shutting down because of a decrease in sales.
Fountain said the employees usually have the week of Christmas off, but were told that in order to get their unused sick leave and vacation days paid before the closure, they had to come in the day after Christmas and work New Year’s Eve.
“We were very surprised, really shocked because it was three days before the holidays,” Fountain said.
That is exactly the reason Stephen Thomas went to work at LC Industries almost a year ago.
“I loved that job,” he said. “With me being visually impaired, it really made me feel good. See, I used to be a butcher, and once my vision went bad, I was around the house not doing anything, and it really made me feel good to have a job.”
Thomas is completely blind in his right eye and has 50-percent vision loss in his left eye because of a detached retina caused four years ago by diabetes. Thomas said he wishes the company had given the employees more than just a few days notice about the closure.
“The way they did it, I felt like they could have given us some more time to find other work,” he said.
“It’s not like we can just go right there to the employment office and find something to do like everyone else can. It’s harder on us.”
Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Natchez Transit System and Senior Center Executive Director Sabrena Bartley discussed at a recent aldermen meeting starting an effort to find replacement jobs for the former LC Industries employees.
Arceneaux-Mathis said she believes a letter needs to be written to LC Industries on behalf of the City of Natchez. Arceneaux-Mathis said she would like to ask if the company can find a place for the Natchez employees at another location.
Fountain said the closest opportunity would be Hazlehurst, where LC Industries has another location.
Bartley said NTS was providing transportation to and from the senior center for the LC Industries employees. Bartley said she will be working to add Hazlehurst to a transit vehicle route that goes to Jackson, if employment can be found for the former LC Industries employees there. Bartley said she has also been researching other programs that could provide employment for the visually impaired.
Washington said she is doubtful she will be able to find work in Natchez.
“I really miss it,” she said. “I just really enjoyed being around people, visually impaired people just like me, and now I don’t have that.”