December 18, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
They should consider painting a picture of a white knight on the outside of the MCC Furniture Thrift Store on Keewatin Street.
On at least two occasions this year, the independently owned store, affiliated with the Mennonite Central Committee but owned by about 50 members from the local community, rode to the rescue of the head of Calvary Temple's ethnic ministry.
Ministry head James Okot said in an interview a newly arrived refugee family and a single woman in need had sought the ministry's help last summer in finding a place to live on short notice.
While the ministry found each of them a home, Okot said they had absolutely nothing to furnish them. The ministry turned to the MCC store for help.
-- Lori Goetz, manager, MCC Furniture Thrift Store
"I just went there and purchased whatever we needed and I didn't even have to pay them the money right away," Okot said. "I paid them later."
Because he knew John Wieler, one of the store's founding members, from Wieler's days as an MCC representative in Africa, Okot said he also got an extra-sweet deal on the price.
In many ways, Okot's feel-good story nicely sums up what the MCC Keewatin store is all about.
Wieler explained during a recent interview in the store's spacious, well-stocked main-floor showroom -- it has hundreds of items on display on two floors -- that about 12 years ago, the church congregation he and the other three founding members belong to was helping resettle refugees in Winnipeg.
"Getting affordable furniture at the time was difficult," he said, "and so the idea of a furniture thrift store took root."
Though the original aim was to provide affordable furniture for local refugees, it has been expanded to include anyone in need of second-hand furniture -- low-income earners, students, young couples and even cottage owners looking for appliances for their weekend retreats.
While there are other second-hand furniture stores in Winnipeg, there are several things that distinguish the Keewatin Street store, and other MCC thrift stores like it, from many of the others.
For starters, all but five of its 30-member staff are volunteers. And all profit from the low-cost operation -- all the furniture it sells has been donated to the store -- is turned over to the MCC to help fund the many community-aid programs it operates in Canada and in developing countries worldwide.
Because the founders purchased an existing store from fellow Mennonite David Schelleberg rather than start one from scratch, they were able to hit the ground running and turn a profit in the first year of operation.
Wieler and Lori Goetz, the store's new manager, said that in the 10 years it's been in business, the store has donated more than $1 million to the MCC. That's a source of pride for its owners, employees and the many people who donate furniture to the store each year.
"I love the idea that we are helping people here in our community as well as in other parts of the world," Goetz said. "It's such a great way to reuse and recycle perfectly good furniture."
It's also one of the things that keeps longtime customer Kathy Bousquet coming back year after year. Bousquet estimates that in the 10 years she's been shopping there, she's purchased at least 15 couches, along with dressers, dining-room cabinets, shelving units and tables.
"When I know that it (the money she spends in the store) is being used to help others, I don't mind shopping here," Bousquet said during her most recent visit to the store, located just north of Notre Dame Avenue.
This time, she bought some ornaments she'd had her eye on for some time. As a bonus, they were 25 per cent off as part of the store's 10-year anniversary sale and celebration, which runs until Saturday.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2013 B6
Updated on Friday, October 18, 2013 at 7:08 AM CDT: