The operation of the Mennonite Central Committee Thrift Shop on Church Street in Elmira is a bit like Santa’s workshop: many hands make light work. That said, each person’s contribution is essential to its success.
The assembly goes something like this: donated shoes get sorted and priced on Wednesdays; donated clothes are a Thursday job. The books have their own specific time slot, as does the remainder of the sorting, pricing, shelf filling, cleaning, packing, receiving and even dishwashing that is required to run the community-based relief business.
The jobs are split up among the 200 or so local residents who pitch in an hour per week, a day per week or sometimes more. For Elmira resident Laura Bauman, her contribution is more of an ongoing commitment.
Bauman is a retiree who has spent a good part of the past year at her Husqvarna sewing machine making several hundred aprons, bags and quilt tops out of material donated to the MCC. She then donates her items for sale, the proceeds going directly to the MCC and the communities the agency supports. Some weeks, she says, she can hardly make enough to keep up with the sales.
“It takes me about an hour to make an apron,” said Bauman who also volunteers for about 10 hours each week at the store’s cash register. “It keeps me busy.”
Bauman first got the idea to make quilts when she read in the Floradale Mennonite Church newsletter about someone doing a similar project in Winnipeg. Her aprons sell for $8 and a bag may sell for as little as $3.
“If I can’t go to the areas to serve where help is needed, this is my way of doing what I can,” she explained. “I enjoy giving my time for others and helping those who are in need. It’s amazing what you can do in your spare time.”
Bauman especially appreciates her spare time since battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma a number of years back. When first diagnosed, the situation did not look good for the mother and grandmother, an experience she says gives her even more motivation to do as much as she can with the time she is given.
“I like to think that these years are my ‘extra years.’ I can’t imagine spending them sitting around, not doing anything. I have the health and the strength and I want to be busy.”
Despite Bauman’s remarkable efforts, she is very keen to mention that it is not something that can be done by one person alone.
Throughout the bi-national network of 107 shops, thousands of volunteers as well as paid managers help with day-to-day MCC operations. At the Elmira location, volunteers such as Bauman bring their various skills and talents to the table and donate items such as knitted slippers, sewn dishcloths, quilts, crib quilts, quilts made from used blue jeans, as well as mitts, scarves, hats, potholders, and even fire-starters made from recycled damaged or used candles.
“It’s just amazing what people come up with,” she said. “Although there are typically only about half a dozen people in the shop at any one time, there are dozens more people pitching in and helping in other ways.”