One approach that retail stores take when recruiting is "customers make the best staff."
In the case of Ten Thousand Villages, replace "staff" with "volunteers."
Premier Greg Selinger recently took notice of the fine work done by the East Kildonan store, located at 963 Henderson Hwy., bestowing one of 10 Premier’s Volunteer Service Awards on the group of just over 25 volunteers at the 31st Annual Volunteer Awards dinner at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg on April 9.
The not-for-profit, volunteer-run store Mennonite Central Committee initiative sells merchandise ranging from jewelry to musical instruments and home décor, to groceries purchased ethically from artisans and producers in 30 countries across the world.
Store manager Jessica Schmidt, who nominated the team, said though the winners were determined weeks in advance of the ceremony, team members were told as they showed up for their first respective shifts of National Volunteer Week (April 6 to 12). The volunteers also received a gift from the company at the time.
"We were going to email it out, and we decided, no, we have to tell them in person," said Schmidt, who has managed the store since June 2013. She started as a volunteer in 2008, became a sales associate, and later ascended to the role of manager.
Schmidt said she was initially approached to nominate an individual from the store, but couldn’t narrow it down to one volunteer, especially since it takes the entire team’s work to keep costs low, and the prices paid to artisans fair.
"We have a big team. Sometimes, it fluctuates month-to-month," she said. "It’s really important to me that we never specify we love one person over another.
"We couldn’t operate as a store without our team in place."
Schmidt explained volunteers come from all walks of life — from students looking to gain volunteer hours to recent retirees to just about everyone in between. She noted some team members have been volunteering for over 30 years. The bulk of the volunteers serve as sales associates, though some also fill various needs as running the organization’s social media outlets, organizing recycling initiatives, and co-ordinating stock days when shipments are received.
East Kildonan resident Maureen Cowling, who is in her third year of retirement and has been volunteering since November, said she had tried helping other organizations, but Ten Thousand Villages has been just the right fit.
"I always loved coming to the store with my kids, and this has really filled a need in my retirement," she said. "I’m reconnecting with people I’ve known — parents of my children’s friends, they come in the door and I haven’t seen them in years. It’s a nice experience."
Susie Slobodian, who also joined the team in November, called the store her "happy place", and decided to help out after transitioning into semi-retirement.
"It’s not really work, it’s kind of like play for me," Slobodian said. "We talk to the customers, and that’s the most fun part.
"You get to meet a lot of really interesting people."
Pat Bryski, who taught in the River East Transcona School Division for approximately 30 years and most recently worked with international students at River East Collegiate, appreciates the opportunity to make a difference worldwide.
"I absolutely love volunteering here, to be surrounded with all this beauty from all over the world," said the two-year volunteer.
Schmidt said the organization is always seeking more volunteers. Those interested can check out www.tenthousandvillages.ca or drop in to the East Kildonan location or the Fort Garry location (134 Plaza Dr.).