As strands of cotton mop heads were being assembled at the Pine Castle center on Spring Park Road in Jacksonville, the half-dozen workers on the production line were finding purpose in their lives.
That’s the point of the mop production facility at the center, which is designed to provide help and jobs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While the 13-acre site with classrooms, physical education and life-improvement facilities draws about 350 people every day, it’s the mop production line that raises money for the facility, part of a nonprofit organization.
The mop production isn’t even a majority fundraiser, as Pine Castle gets multiple grants and other money from fundraising avenues. And there are even other areas of the campus off University Boulevard near Interstate 95 that provide some work for those adults. But the mop-making facility is one of the most far-reaching business ventures at Pine Castle. It produces about 300 mops per day.
“We are unique in the sense that the people we serve, in this case, are also employees,” said Jon May, CEO of Pine Castle Inc. “It’s fit in real well; the sales are priced at a decent enough point for us to break even.”
The mop-production facility garners about $250,000 in annual revenue for Pine Castle. The main contracts for Pine Castle mops include the Florida Department of Corrections and the Department of Children and Families, among others. The largest client is Dade County Schools, where Pine Castle delivers about 22,000 mops per year.
May said the Florida legislatively mandated Respect In Florida program is designed for social-service programs such as Pine Castle’s to be preferred vendors for state agencies and schools.
“If there’s a product that the state needs, we can compete to have that set aside for us,” May said.
Pine Castle has been producing mops for over a decade.
Lighthouse for the Blind of the Palm Beaches was producing the mops in Palm Beach County until about 13 years ago. That’s when Pine Castle heard that social service facility was getting out of mop making, May said. Pine Castle bought the mop-making equipment and then started producing the mops in Jacksonville.
The mops themselves have to meet stringent specifications. There are three weights — 16 ounce, 24 ounce and 32 ounce — and the weight determines the cost.
While the production facility does provide jobs for the intellectually disabled, Pine Castle takes its business ventures seriously. The organization is a member of the First Coast Manufacturers Association, and submits to compliance reviews and inspections of the mop products.
Ok Sun Burks is director of business development for Pine Castle and a former small-business counselor and director at JAX Chamber.
She said that even though Pine Castle is ultimately a social service organization, the mop facilities are very much a professional undertaking.
“It is very much like almost any other manufacturing environment where you are using raw materials to produce a product that has specifications.” Burks said. “The mop heads that we create are particular weights and even the number of yarns to the mop head and length have specifications.
“All that has to be taken into consideration. We also have to pay attention to the quality of the materials that we use,” Burks said. “It’s kind of rudimentary, but we actually count the yarns per mop head and we do spot checks on different mop heads to make sure that we’re meeting specifications.”
Customers need to get what Pine Castle says they’re getting, Burks said, noting that a few years ago, a supplier of the cotton yarn went to a cheaper grade, and Pine Castle had to switch suppliers because the quality wasn’t as good.
“Believe it or not, there are some customers out there that count their mop heads for the yarn because that’s going to affect the longevity of their product,” Burks said.
In addition to the mops, Pine Castle also provides jobs to the developmentally disabled through a production facility that makes construction survey stakes to mark construction boundaries for building projects. Pine Castle does some contract work for Revlon Cosmetics, produces elements of supplies for drug testing kits and helps with the wiring in telephone interface boxes for AT&T.
Ultimately, cranking out mops is an achievement in itself, May said. But the dignity it brings to the workers with special needs is the highest achievement.
“To have meaningful work and to be able to earn income makes them feel productive and worthwhile,” May said. “That’s the mission based of why we do work and we don’t just come and have recreation every day.”
Drew Dixon: (904) 359-4098