Celebrating 50 years of MCC Thrift

MCC Thrift began with one store in Manitoba, now there 85 thrift shops benefitting MCC operating in Canada and the U.S.

In 2007, founders of MCC's network of thrift stores (from left) Linie Friesen, Selma Loewen, Susan Giesbrecht and Sara Stoesz, gathered at a celebration in Winnipeg, Man., to recognize their contributions to MCC. (MCC photo/Gladys Terichow)

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is celebrating 50 years of thrifting with the anniversary of the opening of the first MCC Thrift shop in 1972. The MCC Thrift network provides financial support for the work of MCC around the world. To date, MCC Thrift shops have contributed over $250 million in the last 50 years to help people in need.

Prior to opening the first shop, MCC shipped secondhand clothes to partners all over the world. Then leaders determined that the money spent on shipping would be better spent buying items in the country where they would be used at a fraction of the cost.

Forty years ago, four women in the southern Manitoba community of Altona opened a thrift shop to raise funds for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). It was the beginning of a network that has grown to 56 shops in Canada and 57 in the U.S. and has generated contributions totaling $167 million during those 40 years for the work of MCC. (MCC Photo)

After hearing about this change, Canadians Linie Friesen, Selma Loewen, Susan Giesbrecht and Sara Stoesz dreamed up the concept of opening a temporary shop with the goal of turning secondhand clothing into cash to help others. In March 1972, the first MCC Thrift shop opened in Altona, Manitoba.

This is unbelievable our mustard seed has turned into a big tree and it is still growing, says Linie Friesen, 90, one of the founders of the Altona shop which opened March 17, 1972. Friesen, who was a regular volunteer at the shop until a year ago, said the seemingly insignificant beginnings of MCC thrift shops and the steady growth reminds her of how the blessings of God can turn small contributions into miraculous growth.

“I think it has grown beyond our wildest dreams and hopes,” she says. “The Lord has blessed our efforts. It is just a remarkable thing.”

MCC’s thrift shop network will celebrate this 40-year milestone, May 7-10, at a conference in Archbold, Ohio, where a thrift shop opened in 1976. This conference, which takes place every four years, brings together delegates from both Canada and the U.S.

Reflecting on the early years, Friesen recalls her friend, Selma Loewen, who had attended the MCC Manitoba annual meeting in February 1972. There Loewen heard John Hostetler, director of MCC’s material resources program at the time, report that MCC was reducing shipments of used clothing for overseas distribution. Hostetler had also made the now legendary statement: What we need is a machine that will turn clothing into cash.

Within a few days of the February meeting, Loewen invited Friesen and two other friends, Sara Stoesz and Susan Giesbrecht, to her home where they discussed the idea of selling used goods locally and donating the proceeds to MCC. Friesen says the women’s groups contributed $125 to cover the first month rent of the shop.

The first MCC Thrift shop in the United States opened in Bluffton, Ohio, in 1974, and there are now 40 locations across the country, with two additional shops opening in the next few months.

Fast forward 50 years with more than 85 shops in operation across Canada and the United States, MCC Thrift continues to help provide relief, development and peace in the name of Christ for people all over the world.

“We thought after about six months, everyone would have cleaned out their closets and we’d be out of business, but as you can see, that’s not the case”, says Susan Giesbrecht, one of the founders. “It grew much beyond what I or any of the four of us thought it would grow into.”

Thrift shops are continuing to grow in popularity as people move towards living more sustainable lifestyles with eco-friendly practices. Secondhand shops offer individuals and families a unique shopping experience while extending the lifespan of clothing and housewares, helping to cut down on environmental waste. Plus, budget-friendly prices help hard-earned wages go a little further with current supply chain shortages and increasing prices on everyday essentials.

“When I had small children, I frequented thrift shops and yard sales because it was the only option that fit into our budget,” says Deb King, MCC U.S. national thrift shop development coordinator.

“While that is still the case for many families, I am encouraged to see individuals who have disposable income choosing to shop at thrift shops because they are more aware of the negative impact that fast fashion has on our environment,” she says. “Thrifting is now practiced by people of all ages and income levels.”

To encourage people to develop eco-friendly practices and to celebrate this anniversary milestone, MCC Thrift launched its “Thrifty 50 Challenge” on March 14, 2022. Participants will receive a weekly sustainability challenge in their inbox every week for 50 weeks, plus a chance to win weekly MCC Thrift gift cards. For more information about this challenge and to sign up, go to thrifty50challenge.org.

Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ

Lori Giesbrecht is a marketing specialist for MCC Canada.


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