I recently had the pleasure of meeting Vic Rempel, the chief operating officer at the Kildonan MCC Thrift Shop at 445 Chalmers Ave.
Vic toured me around the sprawling, 40,000 square-foot building which is well-organized into stations designed to cope with the truck loads of donations brought in by Winnipeg’s most generous.
"Your incoming stuff is not predictabl like a retail store where everything comes in boxes and you order exactly what you need — you get what you get," Rempel said. "And you do the best with what you’ve got."
Everything in this non-profit store is donated (other than brand-new mattresses) and is organized, cleaned, priced and displayed, by an army of volunteers.
"We currently have about 270 active volunteers. We have a fantastic work environment for retirees, adults with learning disabilities and students who need their volunteer credits for high school. We provide an opportunity to socialize and gain confidence," he said.
Although there are many employable skills that can be learned — including shipping/receiving, repairing, recycling, warehousing and retailing — Vic focuses on the social benefits for his volunteer employees.
"It is a great way for people to contribute, to be in the local community and to help provide essential goods at affordable prices. Some of our volunteers are here once a month, others are here daily," he said.
"We have volunteers who have worked here for 42 years."
These volunteers are doing a great service to their community, but they are also contributing to the mission of the Mennonite Central Committee, an organization that provides disaster relief, conflict resolution and supports economic development-locally and internationally.
There are currently four MCC Thrift Shops in Winnipeg, part of a network of 118 stores throughout Canada and the United States, which have donated a total of $180 million to projects throughout the world.
You might wonder how a non-profit business that sells good shirts for under a dollar could survive or contribute financially.
"Within all the wonderful donated stuff are these antiques and collectibles. We have a team that researches, cleans and prices them fairly," Rempel said
Behind the scenes are stations and repair shops for every category of goods.
"There is a collector for everything," Rempel. "There is a local entrepreneur who converts old hard suitcases into speaker boxes; someone just bought this German bike from the ’40s, and our glassware and vintage electronics are very big sellers right now."
Rempel has just added 5,000 square feet of retail space and plans on continually growing while fine-tuning the operation, eventually changing the layout so the entrance faces Watt Street.
"We are not like a the regular store where we are only interested in the bottom line and although I love growing business my favorite thing is the interaction with the customers and the genuine relationships that we form."
Evan Comstock is a community correspondent for East Kildonan.