Community built hand in hand

Common mission found in the Winkler MCC Thrift Shop

Clothes section of a thrift shop

If you found yourself at the Winkler MCC Thrift Shop on a Monday morning, you might be impressed by the industrious pace of volunteers sorting household donations, pricing new stock, repairing sewing machines or refreshing shop displays.

You might find yourself following aromas of home baking and freshly brewed coffee into a brightly lit staff room, where you’d hear a combination of Low German, High German and English. Maybe even a few phrases in Spanish or Russian.

Mostly though, you would be drawn in by the laughter shared between a hearty group of Winkler area residents, who realized a common mission in their local Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Thrift shop.

The Winkler MCC Thrift Shop was founded in 1974 and quickly became a hub in the growing community of Winkler, Man. Moving four times within the shop’s first 12 years and expanding its current location four times since then, the shop has contributed more than $12 million to the global relief, development and peace work of MCC since its establishment.

A woman with short hair, glasses and a face mask works at a thrift shop
Judy Pauls volunteers to price donated items in preparation for a new week. MCC photo/Josue Figueroa

When the shop opened, Winkler and its surrounding area made up a close-knit rural Mennonite community. But, over the past two decades, the Winkler area has seen steady growth in its diversity and numbers.

Today, the Winkler MCC Thrift Shop operates with a generous pool of 300 volunteers and serves approximately 1,200 customers a week. As a community hub, it's bridge-building for people of varying church affiliations, ages, abilities, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

So, why does the shop have such a large volunteer pool?

A man in a grey hoodie sits in front of a computer
Eduard Richter, Winkler MCC Thrift Shop's assistant manager, provides administrative support and schedules volunteers from a pool of approximately 300, many of whom signed up through a local church. MCC photo/Josue Figueroa

When Eduard Richter began his role as assistant manager two years ago, he was surprised to find that more than 10 area churches — across denominational lines — supplied a ready stream of volunteers to operate the shop. There aren’t many places where local churches, with varying affiliations come together, but Richter says that at the shop "we [all have] the same purpose."

Peter Kornelson, the shop’s manager, says that the volunteers inspire his work.

"They say Freedom 55 and you’re supposed to retire and kick back and do nothing. When I look at the people we have here, that’s just not so. You need a purpose to get up in the morning, and that encourages me."

As volunteers, we all come together as brothers and sisters and we do our work. We never point out that this is from that kind of church or the other kind. It doesn’t come into the life of MCC … We know that there are different churches represented there, but they all work together as a unit, so it’s wonderful."

Jakob Hildebrandt

Volunteers come through Winkler MCC Thrift Shop’s doors for varying reasons. For many it offers vocational purpose. For others it offers a welcoming and safe space to connect during isolating times. And for the newcomer, it’s a place to learn English, gain work experience and make new friends.

For Heather Dyck, the shop offers a flexible vocation when chronic illness otherwise limits her options.

"[Volunteering] is one of my favourite things that I do … I really like being able to do something that is productive and feels useful and working for an [organization] that is doing good things," says Dyck.

A woman with long red hair works in a thrift shop
Heather Dyck prepares clothing donations for display in the storefront. MCC photo/Josue Figueroa

At 93, Jakob Hildebrandt continues his 25-year-long volunteer commitment for a handful of reasons.

Since the mid-1990s, he has repaired computers, small appliances, bicycles and his specialty, antique sewing machines.

For Hildebrandt, values of recycling, reusing and reclaiming used goods were ingrained at a young age.

"When you see an item coming in that probably would go to the dump or scrap heap and you’re able to make something out of it, [it] gives you satisfaction that you were able to make something," he says.

An older man in a hat and glasses sits by a sewing machine
Jakob Hildebrandt has a long-standing history with MCC and continues to repair the Winkler shop's small equipment and appliance donations at the age of 93. MCC photo/Josue Figueroa

His commitment to MCC runs deep. As refugees in southern Germany during the Second World War, Hildebrandt and his mother received emergency food supplies from MCC and were later helped by the organization to immigrate to Canada.

Approximately 20 years later, he signed up to serve with MCC in Nigeria through the Teachers Abroad Program (TAP).

And today, although admittedly slowing down a bit, he continues to give back to MCC, looking in at the Winkler MCC Thrift Shop three to four times a week for donations in need of repair.

Still, the most common drawing factor for shop volunteers is a shared belief in MCC’s mission in the name of Christ. The shop’s board chair Dave Penner says that the Winkler MCC Thrift Shop offers people like him an opportunity to do mission work right at home.

"They can walk to work and yet they can help people out in Afghanistan and Iraq and Haiti," says Penner. "I know it encourages them, and it’s good to see that people feel useful living in our community and being able to help."

A woman with glasses and face mask touches a book in a book display at a thrift shop
Adeline Braun has volunteered at the Winkler MCC Thrift Shop for more than 20 years. She’s found volunteering in the book department “a logical place to plug in,” a niche that cultivates her personal interest in books and offers a practical opportunity to support the work of MCC. Braun stays motivated knowing that, together, the volunteers’ efforts help to meet basic human needs in the name of Christ and reflects warmly on friends she's made at the shop — “a lot of fine people of various backgrounds.” MCC photo/Josue Figueroa

Hildebrandt says, "As volunteers, we all come together as brothers and sisters and we do our work. We never point out that this is from that kind of church or the other kind. It doesn’t come into the life of MCC … We know that there are different churches represented there, but they all work together as a unit, so it’s wonderful."

The shop’s community is a collective effort, built "hand in hand," adds Kornelson.

Visit to learn more and connect with your local MCC Thrift shop.

Two women in face masks work with plants in a thrift shop
Betty Klassen (left) and Carol Neufeld (right) tend to the Winkler shop's plant donations. MCC photo/Josue Figueroa