Thrift shop grows into $167 million network


May event celebrates 40th anniversary of first MCC thrift shop

By Gladys Terichow, writer for MCC Canada, with contributions by Ed Nyce, MCC U.S. media and education coordinator

A network of thrift shops in the U.S. and Canada that raises funds for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) will celebrate its 40-year anniversary May 7-10 at a conference in Archbold, Ohio. Many USMB congregations and individuals support MCC and its thrift shops. MCC is an inter-Mennonite relief, development and peace agency that serves in the name of Christ.

The first MCC thrift shop opened March 17, 1972, in Altona, Man. It was the beginning of a network that has grown to 57 shops in the U.S. and 56 in Canada and has generated contributions totaling $167 million for the work of MCC. Last year, the shops in the U.S. contributed $5.2 million.

“This is unbelievable—our mustard seed has turned into a big tree and it is still growing,” says Linie Friesen, 90, one of four founders of that first shop.

“It’s almost overwhelming to see the nearly 10,000 volunteers who have given of their time to make this venture possible,” says Diana Miller, MCC U.S. thrift shop development coordinator. “In our current economy, we continue to be competitive as a network of nonprofit thrift shops, while providing funds for the benefit of MCC’s programming here and abroad.”

People donating items to MCC thrift shops, buying items or volunteering may feel their contributions are inconsequential. But Friesen emphasizes that the success of MCC shops demonstrates that, collectively, these efforts make a difference.

“When we work together we can help others,” says Friesen. “Every little bit counts; it all adds up. We can’t all be overseas workers for MCC, but we can all help MCC.”

Friesen, who was a regular volunteer at the shop until a year ago, says 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.

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

Reflecting on the early years, Friesen recalls that her friend, Selma Loewen, had attended the MCC Manitoba annual meeting in February 1972 and heard reports that MCC was reducing shipments of used clothing for overseas distribution. John Hostetler, director of MCC’s material resources program at the time, had said, “What we need is a machine that will turn clothing into cash.”

Within a few days of the February meeting, Loewen had 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 group contributed $125 to cover the first month rent of the shop, known back then as the Altona Community Self Help Centre. A thrift shop opened in nearby Steinbach one month later, and two shops opened in Winnipeg, Man., later in the year. These four shops contributed $6,300 to MCC in 1972.
In the U.S., the first thrift shop opened in 1974 in Bluffton, Ohio, under the leadership of Lois Kreider. Two shops opened in 1975—in Millersburg, Ohio and Souderton, Pa.—and four more opened in 1976.

Ken Benner is board chairman of the Re-Uzit Shop of New Holland (Pa.), Inc., which expanded in November 2010 from 10,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. Benner is sold on the business model employed by the thrift shops.

“When you match the goods people have with people in need, and the proceeds help people around the world, it just fits like a glove,” he says. “There’s little or no payroll because the shops are largely staffed by volunteers.

 The store doesn’t have to buy inventory. Sales are significant, so the percentage of profit given to MCC is huge.”

Other benefits include the availability of affordable goods, reusing and recycling and meaningful opportunities for people to get to know each other and contribute to worthwhile causes.

To learn more about MCC thrift shops, visit


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