D.C. residents jam job fair for Costco coming to Ward 5

They lined up by the hundreds Saturday morning outside Mount Horeb Baptist Church in Northeast Washington, many clasping manila folders with résumés tucked inside. Some wore suits and ties. All sought the same thing: work.

On Saturday, the District’s first Costco Wholesale warehouse held its first job fair at the church. More then 2,000 job seekers from Ward 5 and beyond turned out in hopes of claiming one of the more than 200 jobs the store is expected to fill. The warehouse, scheuled to open in November, advertised for managers, meat-cutters, stock workers and more.

“I don’t want welfare. I don’t want food stamps. I want to work,” said Arthur Batten, 47, as he leaned against the church’s red brick wall. Batten, who lives in Northwest, said he hasn’t had steady work since 2007.

“I got four kids,” said Stanley Martin, 23, a Ward 7 resident who was standing next to Batten. “I need to take care of my family.”

Advisory Neighborhood Commission member Robert King, who helped organize the job fair, said the big turnout was a reflection of unemployment in Ward 5, which is higher than the 9 percent rate reported for the entire District.

“We’re out here to try to get people to work again,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who talked with job seekers Saturday morning.

Costco is to be part of a residential and commerical center that that will also have a Shoppers Food Warehouse, a Marshalls department store and a Lowe’s home-improvement store. The D.C. government provided $17.3 million in financing for the project, which city officials expect to create 1,200 jobs in construction and retail and to yield $634 million in tax revenue to the city over 30 years.

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) said the job fair was a welcome opportunity to apply for jobs — not just to attend a fair in hopes that a job might someday become available.

“Everyone that comes to a job fair, clearly they want a job,” Brown said. “But what a lot of folks are looking for is the opportunity to get the job.”

King said he hopes to hold job fairs for the other retailers coming to the area. And Joe Elutrio, warehouse manager for Costco, said his company might hold another job fair in September.

On Saturday, the turnout and hot weather contributed to some tensions even as red-shirted Costco workers wheeled trolleys carrying 35-packs of water bottles for people who lined up around the block.

Organizers had circulated fliers advertising the fair around the city, and the fliers asked people to preregister if they wanted to schedule an interview. Two thousand people quickly responded, King said, prompting organizers to cut off preregistration early.

Several people said they had signed up before the cutoff but had not received confirmation or been scheduled for an interview. Many had to wait in a line for walk-ins. Others were directed to drop off their résumés and leave.

Greg Henderson, 25, sat among hundreds in a hall inside the church as he waited for a pre-interview screening. Henderson and others expressed frustration at the large number of candidates, and he wished that only Ward 5 candidates had been invited, rather than thousands from across the city.

Henderson, who said he was born and raised in Ward 5, was one of many people who arrived hours before the job fair’s 9 a.m. start and who were waiting to be inteviewed at mid-morning.

“It’s chaos,” he said.

The atmosphere calmed as the line dwindled. Shortly after 11 a.m., Henderson, in a white polo shirt, had advanced to a waiting room before his interview with Elutrio, the warehouse manager.

Henderson said he was laid off from a job as a driver for a senior-living services company about 18 months before. “I just had twins a year ago,” Henderson said. “It’s destined for me to get this job.”

 
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