Former AJ Wright employees seeking help

It has been more than two years since AJ Wright pulled up stakes in South Bend, closing its doors and throwing more than 600 people out of work here locally.

AJ Wright got $10 million in financial incentives and tax breaks from the city to open its distribution center on Sample Street. When it closed in 2011, the company agreed to pay the city back about $350,000 per year for nine years for not fulfilling the promise of employment they initially came to South Bend with.

In a proposal by the Community Forum for Economic Development, that money would go to displaced employees for social services and job training.

On Saturday many of those former workers got together for a meeting. Many of them are still out of work, struggling to make ends meet -- and now they're asking the city for help.

"I planned on retiring from AJ Wright," said Cynthia Liggins.

Liggins lost her job when the company shut down in South Bend, making that plan impossible. She hasn't had a full-time job since.

"I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm tired of going and getting rejected," she said.

Liggins shared her story in front of the packed room, full of former employees.

"Just if we could get help with the agencies and not have to do the runaround," said Francine Deal, a former AJ Wright employee.

"We want help so that we can help ourselves," Barbara Turner said. Turner worked for seven years at AJ Wright until it closed. She's been looking for work ever since.

"I believe that a good portion of the money should be used to help benefit the workers from that standpoint, but then you gotta consider what outstanding debts there are if there are any," said City Councilman Oliver Davis (District 6). "What other issues that we can utilize these whole things, everything should be put on the table."

So far, the city has collected about $700,000 from AJ Wright in the form of paybacks.

For now, it's just sitting there... But Liggins just hopes it'll eventually be used to help people like her.

"Maybe somebody can help me get above water and stay above water before I get evicted again," she said.

Councilman Davis says there's no timeline for when a decision will be made as to how the money will be used, but the matter will be taken up at a meeting on May 13th.

Turner says she hopes to see help before the end of the year and that unemployment from the federal government is running out for her and fellow co-workers.