Bill and Edna Ressler have been a staple force at MCC Connections Thrift Shop in Kidron, Ohio, for more than 20 years.
Nowadays you can find them each Monday in a back corner of the thrift shop warehouse sorting through bins of donated houseware items. But their journey with MCC Connections started back in 2000, before the thrift shop was even built.
Their commitment and generosity was recently recognized as they were named recipients of the Journey Award from the Everence Financial offices in Northeast Ohio.
The beginnings of MCC Connections
Bill was retiring from Kidron Electric when he heard about the opening for a director for the new MCC thrift shop that would be built in Kidron. “It was a new experience for me,” he said, “but it looked exciting.”
He remembers it was a quick transition – less than two weeks from him turning in his application to when he was hired in June 2000. The store opened a year later in May of 2001 and has been thriving ever since.
Although Bill was the official MCC Connections staff member, Edna has always been right there working every step of the way, starting with cleaning the store during the many evenings of construction. “MCC said, ‘We took one and got two!’” laughs Edna.
They both attended MCC orientation in Akron, Pennsylvania, at the beginning of their service which they credit with building a stronger sense of purpose for their work supporting the broader mission of MCC.
“I always enjoyed going to thrift shops, and there weren’t many around here,” said Edna. “It just appealed to me when the opportunity came. I thought that would be something we could do.”
MCC photo/Jennifer Steiner
Starting a thrift shop from the ground up wasn’t an easy endeavor, but the Resslers are quick to point out they had lots of help from others, including a local board, volunteers and Barb Schrag, former MCC thrift shop coordinator.
“Bill and Edna helped develop an exceptional thrift store experience which continues to be our standard,” said Michael Amstuz, current director of MCC Connections. “The success of the store can be attributed to the foundation they helped to lay with the assistance of so many volunteers.”
Material Resources Center
In addition to the thrift shop, Bill was also in charge of the MCC Material Resources Center located in the same building. This included processing donations of kits and comforters, as well as hosting volunteer groups to help pack kits and other activities.
“We had such good times with groups coming in,” remembers Edna. “We had a whole Amish church come in one time. It just built a community family feeling, and I loved that.”
Bill enjoyed connecting with the broader MCC material resources network across the U.S. and Canada through this work, as well as meetings and retreats with MCC Great Lakes staff members. Early in his tenure, the MCC Great Lakes office was actually located in Kidron before it moved to Goshen, Indiana.
20th anniversary of MCC Connections
As MCC Connections celebrated its 20th anniversary in May 2021, they reached an astonishing milestone of over $9.1 million raised to support the work of MCC around the world.
From the outset, making the thrift shop appealing to customers has been a high priority. Marleen Reinhardt was added to the MCC Connections staff as assistant manager in 2003 bringing her creativity and artistic eye to the team for nine years.
After more than 20 years, the thrift shop continues to get rave reviews from customers. “We always hear comments from customers about how much they love that our store doesn't feel like a thrift store,” said Amstutz, who has been the director since 2017. “They love how clean it is and how everything is arranged so nice.”
Photo/Jill Detweiler Breckbill
“We have people coming from Akron and Canton and Cleveland and Mansfield and all over, because this is the store they like to shop at,” said Edna. “We felt from the very beginning that it is so important that things are clean, complete and changed out daily. I always remember Barb Schrag saying, ‘Display nice things, and you’ll get nice things.’ And that is absolutely true.”
Volunteer roles now
After 12 years, Bill retired from the role of MCC Connections director in 2012, and the Resslers spent two years as directors of the Mennonite Mission Network SOOP program in Phoenix, Arizona.
Upon their return to Kidron, both Bill and Edna moved into volunteer roles at MCC Connections. “If we don’t get done on Monday, we’re back here on Tuesday or Wednesday or some other time,” says Bill.
MCC photo/Jennifer Steiner
They carefully sort through bins of donations, taking out anything that is chipped or broken, identifying what is likely or unlikely to sell. After working with houseware donations for over 20 years, Edna has a keen eye. “Because of Edna’s experience, we have a better feeling of what will sell,” said Bill.
Her experience is also helpful as she helps gather items and manage display shelves in the “Unique and Antique” section of the shop. Edna doesn’t leave her volunteer work at the thrift shop either. She is regularly taking home pieces that have good potential but need careful deep cleaning.
“I get toys, I get tools, I get dishes and Longaberger baskets...,” she says. “They have to be clean, so there are times I spend a lot of time getting them clean. I know a few things about cleaning.”
Changes through the years
The Resslers have certainly seen some changes over their years of involvement at MCC Connections. The number of customers continues to grow each year, and the building itself grew with additions a year and half after opening.
The processing structure for donations coming in has changed several times to try to move donations through more efficiently. And the management of the MCC Material Resources Center has moved to a separate MCC staff position rather than the thrift shop director.
Technology has progressed as well. “We didn’t take credit cards at the beginning,” remembers Edna. “And now we have touch screens instead of the old registers.” What started out as a system tracking sales for six different departments in the shop has grown to 16 different departments.
Bill and Edna started the first Christmas Open House in 2002, and it has remained a big community event in November of each year. While the first several years the thrift shop team set up overnight, now the thrift shop closes for a day to transform the shop for the holiday event.
Importance of volunteers
What hasn’t changed is the dedication of hundreds of volunteers that make the thrift shop run smoothly. In addition to providing important assistance in processing and selling items, the volunteers genuinely enjoy spending time together as they work.
“We are a family here. This is the place they get affirmation, they talk to friends. There would be lonely people if they wouldn’t be here,” explained Edna. “People volunteer because of that,” added Bill.
MCC photo/Jennifer Steiner
MCC Connections currently has around 350 volunteers, including those in the quilt room. “Aside from the global impact of MCC Connections and the MCC Thrift Network, the mission of MCC Connections provides an opportunity for individuals in the community to find purpose and meaning throughout life, especially after retirement,” said Amstutz.
“Many of our volunteers recognize the benefit of having a place to belong and make a difference,” he explained. “It also provides a place for people to bring donations, knowing they can repurpose their belongings.”
Journey Award from Everence
Bill and Edna were recently chosen to receive a Journey Award from the Everence Financial offices in Northeast Ohio recognizing their generosity in sharing their time and financial resources.
In addition to their years with MCC Connections, the Resslers have served in leadership positions in their congregation, Pleasant View Mennonite Church in North Lawrence, as well as volunteering with other Mennonite organizations.
“We’ve been blessed in many different ways,” said Bill. “The families we grew up in were givers.”
Bill and Edna also point to learnings from Mark Vincent and the giving project through Ohio Mennonite Conference for shaping their philosophy about generosity. “The foundation is that when you give your life to Christ, you’re giving everything,” explained Bill. “Not just your mind, but your time and your billfold. You give over ownership of everything, so then you become stewards of Christ’s possessions.”
When asked why they continue to give so much time and energy to MCC Connections, Bill and Edna recounted the impact of an MCC learning tour to Haiti and Nicaragua where they met partners and saw first-hand the work of MCC. “It helped us see the big picture,” said Edna. “Why wouldn’t we want to support that?”
“One of the things I think about, is that we’re not able to go to where people have need,” said Bill. “But this is one connection we have that ends up helping people who have need.”