Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Thrift shops have continued to support MCC and benefit their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to volunteers and staff adjusting to new guidelines and safety measures. Throughout temporary closures, an increase in donations and a decrease in volunteers, we are in awe of the resilience of our thrift shops. Their passion, creativity and tenacity has been inspiring.
As we reflect on our gratitude to MCC Thrift shops in the past year of challenges, we invite you to read reflections from Sharon Appel, General Manager of World's Attic Thrift Shop (Sarasota, Fla.), Naomi Raber, General Manager of New Life Thrift Shop (Chambersburg, Pa.) and Alonna Gautsche Sprunger, Executive Director of ReUzit on State (Ephrata, Pa.). Appel has been on staff at World's Attic for four years, Raber has been on staff at New Life for three years and Sprunger has been on staff at ReUzit on State for 10 months.
Alonna, what was it like starting as Executive Director of ReUzit on State during the pandemic?
Sprunger: “I started as Executive Director while we were closed due to the pandemic. Just six months earlier, ReUzit on State experienced its grand reopening into a newly constructed building which consolidated three locations. The team was just at the point of becoming accustomed to newly created processes and the wonderful increase in sales volume. And then we were shut down. As I met and worked side-by-side with the managers, I listened to many stories of problem solving and resilience with planning for and opening the new store. We drew upon those same skills to adjust again and implement the safety COVID-19 protocols to reopen the store in June of 2020. The entire team’s commitment to the mission and ministry of ReUzit on State continues to be the motivation to do whatever we need to do to make it work.”
ReUzit on State/Alonna Gautsche Sprunger
We recognize that MCC Thrift shops have faced many challenges during the pandemic. How have you overcome them?
Appel (World’s Attic Thrift Shop, Sarasota, Fla.): “We moved into our new location March 9th and had to close March 17th. We were closed for two months. The biggest challenge was keeping up with the overwhelming donations. We stand in awe of God’s incredible blessings in a terrible time. The provision of donations, though sometimes overwhelming, is amazing. The normalcy of being open and having a place for others to shop, to serve, to fellowship is so needed in these strange pandemic times. We are very, very thankful!”
Raber (New Life Thrift Shop, Chambersburg, Pa.): “Keeping customers engaged while we were closed was an initial goal in March and April 2020. I shared displays on the store Facebook page three times a week featuring items at home which I had bought at a MCC Thrift shop and some fair-trade items from Ten Thousand Villages. I wanted to give customers something beautiful to see on a regular basis while we waited to see each other in person again. When we reopened ten weeks later, I had one customer say she looked for the posts each day to find something positive and hopeful in her social media feed. It blessed me to know that MCC Thrift was a part of her regular community circle even in a virtual setting!”
Sprunger (ReUzit on State, Ephrata, Pa.): “Being responsible for the welfare of employees and volunteers, especially during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge. Yes, a big piece of this includes attending to the business and finances. But even more important is the health and welfare of team members who are a part of this community. Each morning at 8:59 a.m. before the store doors open, I say a prayer asking for God to shower us with wisdom, strength, grace and joy shown through ‘eye smiles.’”
World’s Attic Thrift Shop/Sharon Appel
Adaptation has been a big part of the past year as each of your shops works to follow local public health guidelines. We know shops are enforcing mask guidelines, wiping down commonly touched surfaces, offering hand sanitizer, practicing social distancing and more as you work to keep staff, volunteers and shoppers safe. And donation processing has changed as some shops are holding items for up to 72 hours before sorting them. Naomi, I heard New Life Thrift Shop has come up with some other creative solutions. What are they?
Raber: “Our customers have adapted to reading the price of each item to the cashiers and bagging their own items. This eliminates the cashier from touching hundreds of items a day and gives some additional physical space behind the plexiglass. An ongoing challenge is to find creative ways to balance the high influx of donations while having significantly fewer volunteers to process the items. We send our monthly newsletter to all the volunteers unable to join us in person and some volunteers have requested to work from home with a “curbside drop off” option. It is great to see everyone, even if it’s only a wave through a car window!”
World’s Attic Thrift Shop/Sharon Appel
MCC appreciates and relies on the financial contributions of MCC Thrift shops to support our domestic and international ministries. In addition, we know being active in your own community is also important. How has your shop made a difference locally, particularly during the pandemic?
Appel: “Being open has been a blessing to many. I had more than one customer say that it was their first outing out and they wanted to come to see us! We lost some volunteers who didn’t want to be out, but most came back and were so happy to have a safe outlet to volunteer. Because we’ve flourished in these times, we’ve been able to contribute financially locally to a different nonprofit each month, so that has been wonderful.”
“New Life received the unexpected honor of being nominated for the 2020 Business of the Year from the Franklin Together: Re-entry Coalition for exemplifying their motto, 'Together, we can make a difference.' It is a great collaborative effort to serve the Chambersburg community. New Life partners with the local nonprofit to provide certificates for two outfits to individuals returning to the community from the county jail. This allows for one set of clothing to be worn and a second outfit to be washed. I saw this local giving being in line with the work of MCC in Philadelphia distributing prisoner care kits.”
- Naomi Raber
Sprunger: “As unemployment has increased in our community because of the pandemic, we are a source of quality, reasonably priced clothing, household goods, furniture and much more. The day ReUzit on State reopened, I was outside monitoring the door and visiting with those in line. I clearly remember a woman who, without any prompting, introduced herself as a single mom with three young children. She was bubbling with excitement, ‘I’m so glad that you are open. I was desperate! My children have all outgrown last year’s summer clothing and this is the only place where I can get them clothing that I can afford. Thank you!’”
ReUzit on State/Alonna Gautsche Sprunger
Why should people shop at an MCC Thrift shop?
Appel: “People should shop at MCC Thrift shops because of the mission we support. Knowing that our monies go to such a worthy cause, including local donations, is much better than a for-profit shop.”
Raber: “Our customers come to New Life for a variety of reasons: community, vintage resale, cute outfits on a budget, educational books and those white elephant gifts that have everyone scratching their head wondering, 'What is it?' We also know that our local neighbors are struggling with employment due to the pandemic and that more families are going to need to find ways to stretch their income. That’s exactly where MCC Thrift thrives – affirming the dignity of everyone without regard to their financial or social situation.”
Sprunger: “People shop at MCC Thrift shops because they care about their neighbors near and far. They know their donations, purchases and volunteer time are making a difference in the lives of real people around the world and in our community.”
LNP Media Group/Vinny Tennis
Throughout the East Coast region, there are 16 MCC Thrift shops in Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.
MCC Thrift shops across the country need more volunteers to safely process the steady stream of donations that continue to come in from pandemic clean-outs. Learn more about MCC Thrift shops and find the shop nearest you by visiting https://thrift.mcc.org/.