Cherise Kovack, of Brownstown, Pa., shops for Christmas decorations at the Re-Uzit Shop of New Holland (Pa.) on Nov. 29.
MCC Photo/Silas Crews

Cherise Kovack, of Brownstown, Pa., shops for Christmas decorations at the Re-Uzit Shop of New Holland (Pa.) on Nov. 29. 

Once a year in late October, what might look like loitering on the 100 block of S. Main Street in Eureka, Ill., is actually people anticipating a thrifty Christmas.

Each year, up to 100 people gather in front of the Eureka Et Cetera Shop, waiting for the doors to open. They are eager to see what the “dedicated Christmas shop” looks like and has to offer.

The Eureka Et Cetera Shop is one of about 50 shops in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. thrift shop network. Thrift shops provide customers with quality goods at affordable prices, with a portion of every purchase supporting the international and national work of MCC. The Christmas season is no exception.

Sales at the Christmas shop in Eureka amount to about $20,000 annually, said Shirley Kennell, the Et Cetera’s  manager. About 12 volunteers work year-round preparing and storing Christmas items that are donated to Et Cetera by businesses and individuals, she said.

“Nativity sets are selling well this year,” said Kennell. “I think that’s a good thing.”

 In Gap, Pa., Country Gift & Thrift Shoppe opened the Christmas section in late October. Manager Nancy Neff said the shop has “been flooded with sales.”

 As in other years, Christmas trees are popular, Neff said. One customer told her that each year, he buys a Christmas tree from the shop, then returns it after Christmas, saying he has no place to store it. Meanwhile, some items are reserved for the weeks even closer to Christmas, staying in storage until December. Cookie tins, for instance, “fly out” of the shop as people prepare to share their dessert treats.

Christmas decorations are popular items among customers of the Et Cetera Shoppe in Freeman, S.D. While some people purchase them for their own homes, staff from local retirement communities, Sunday school teachers and others picks up decorations for those settings as well, said shop manager Kris Carlson.

Since Nov. 8, the Nearly New Shop in Reedley, Calif., has had a Christmas look of its own. Decorations are popular items here, too, as is warm winter clothing, according to shop manager Carol Peters.

However, there is more to the MCC thrift shops than items for sale. Participating in the life of the community is also important.

Earlier this year, Peters contacted local churches, seeking to expand the shop’s community involvement. Since then, the Nearly New Shop has provided five churches with two $25 gift certificates each month. The churches, which vary from one month to the next, will share them with people in need throughout the year.

“While items may be put away after the Christmas season, the Christmas spirit isn’t,” said Peters.

At this time of year, when huge holiday expenditures can quickly add up, inexpensive new and gently used items at thrift shops remain viable options for friends and loved ones, said Carlson.

"When we’re thinking of giving and of doing to others [as we want them to do to us], a thrift purchase supports the work of MCC and is a gift to others,” she said. “So, we’re doing double-duty.”

To find locations of MCC thrift shops or to learn how you can volunteer at a shop, visit

Ed Nyce is public education coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee U.S.