A woman pictured in a Winnipeg MCC Thrift shop
MCC photo/Meghan Mast

Gerry Loewen pictured in the Selkirk MCC Thrift Shop in 2015, where she served as manager for 10 years. She is the daughter of Selma Loewen, one of the founders of the first MCC Thrift shop, in Altona, Man. 


Playing time: 
Join Threads for stories celebrating MCC Thrift's 50th anniversary.


Listen in as Gerry Loewen, Kevin Hamm and Kristine Heinrichs share heartwarming stories from MCC Thrift shops in Manitoba with our host Kyle Rudge. This month marks the 50th anniversary of MCC Thrift with the first shop's opening in Altona, Man. in March 1972.

Threads, formerly known as Word and Deed, was established in April 2007. It is a 15-minute radio program by KR Words featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of the month. 

Audio transcription:

Kyle Rudge  0:02  
It begins with a single thread, woven through other thread, and then another, and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another just like it. [MUSIC]

This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world.

Gerry Loewen  0:50  
In 72, 1972. She she had gone to a conference I think it was in Steinbach and then she had invited the women over and they sort of came to a plan I guess they planned it. [MUSIC]

Kyle Rudge  1:39  
It's hard to believe that was 50 years ago, but here we are in 2022. This year MCC Thrift celebrates its 50th year in existence. Over those 50 years sales from secondhand items has raised over $300 million for the work of Mennonite Central Committee. It started as one shop in Altona. And now approximately 100 thrift shops across Canada and the U.S., from Ontario to BC, from New York to Southern California, and it continues to grow and support the work of MCC today.

Gerry Loewen  2:15  
My name is Gerry Loewen. I'm the oldest child of Bill and Selma Loewen. And their home was in Altona for 39 years.

Kyle Rudge  2:28  
Gerry is Selma Loewen's daughter. Selma was one of the four women who had this idea to sell used clothes to help the work of MCC overseas.

Gerry Loewen  2:37  
It was always talked about it was always my mom and the three other women were always very amazed at how well it was doing and how thrift took off. I mean, it was it was around the supper table. I mean, it it never left our family. Though my mom didn't volunteer her days with that at all, you know, like Linie and Sarah had, it was always there in the back of our minds. And you know mom would let us know what was happening, you know, sort of at a at a different kind of level. Like you know, if there had been a brochure or some sort of statistic that would come in, she was always very, very happy about that. Very thankful. All four women were a little ahead of their time. I mean, they they really did this on their own. They really gave us the cue to sort of you know, you can do anything you want and you can be your own person really.

Kyle Rudge  3:36  
Those thrift genes, as in genetics, not denim, I feel like I have to make that distinction, stayed with Gerry throughout the years, so much that after her medical career she found herself volunteering at a shop here in Winnipeg.

Gerry Loewen  3:49  
And I started volunteering very briefly at at the MCC Thrift shop on Selkirk Avenue. And that was because the church I go to Charleswood Mennonite is very has been and is very involved with the thrift shop there. And it was something different. And immediately, quite relatively soon within a few months, I ended up being the manager because they wanted me to be the store manager and they were kind of going through a phase where there was one of the women was retiring from that. So I said yes. And so, in the fall of 2006 I became the store manager and it was always a part time job. It was never a full time job. But I really enjoyed it a lot and then I gave up nursing. So then I did that for 10 years and I really really enjoyed it. I had a had a wonderful time at the shop on Selkirk Avenue. Those were good years. I learned how to do something different than nursing. It was wonderful. I got to know how to work a cash register and bear with me, I mean, there were many people that knew how to do it better than I did. But it was it was a really good learning curve. And I could be with people again, people that were really happy that came into the shop and I really enjoyed the community. It was as I was a community nurse in two different types of jobs and I always had the North End and Selkirk Avenue was always there. And so I kind of knew a little bit about Selkirk Avenue and its history, and the history that made up the community and it was great. I must say it was just wonderful to be back.

Kyle Rudge  5:39  
There's so many stories that come out of thrift. Each day it seems like there is something new.

Kevin Hamm  5:43  
I've said this to a number of people. I said, you know, you could you could work here, and I've worked here for over 10 years, you can work here for probably decades and probably every day there will still be something new. 

Kyle Rudge  5:56  
Meet Kevin. 

Kevin Hamm  5:57  
I've been the general manager here since 2009. And we are a volunteer run Portage MCC, I'm sorry, Portage MCC is a volunteer run MCC Thrift shop but is independent of MCC Manitoba but has a board of directors and vibrant group of volunteers and staff and I am responsible to oversee them.

Kyle Rudge  6:23  
The Portage MCC Thrift serves as a strong community hub. They're well known, well respected and very well supported by the community. As such, they have some very heartwarming stories.

Kevin Hamm  6:34  
But just yesterday, or sorry, just this week, we got something in that we hadn't seen, I don't think ever before. And that was a wrapped Christmas present. And it was completely sealed. And we thought hey, this is fun. Let's just put it out like this priced. And sure enough within an hour someone bought it and the unwrap did for us in public because we thought this is too much fun. And it turns out they got quite a good deal. We were hoping it was a box of chocolates. If it was a box of chocolates we would have we would have insisted that we got a taste. Turns out it was a gift package of cosmetics and lotions. After it had been sold we actually had someone contact us on social media and said hey, I'll pay you guys five bucks just to open it. I want to see what's inside.

Kyle Rudge  7:21  
It was interesting talking to Kevin. It was clear that his passion for MCC Thrift ran very deep. Just how deep it ran became readily apparent when I jokingly asked him if he had a favourite volunteer.

Kevin Hamm  7:35  
That's easy actually my asking about my favourite volunteer. Well, my favourite volunteer would have to be two of them. And that would be my mom and my dad. My parents have been involved in this store since the very early days. They weren't quite here at the very beginning but really close. In fact, my mom used to be the general manager here at Portage MCC. And it's kind of ironic I'm a little bit off tangent here but off topic I should say but the the current board chair, his dad used to be the board chair when my mom was the general manager. So it's kind of runs in the family. 

Kyle Rudge  8:16  
50 years of stories, of history, of growth. Currently, Manitoba has 16 thrift shops. Each of them are independent organizations yet share this brand and vision called MCC Thrift.

Kristine Heinrichs  8:28  
My name is Kristine Heinrichs. Wait. I'm gonna do it again. My name is Kristine. Hi. Hi. I'm Kristine Heinrichs and I'm the thrift coordinator for MCC Manitoba and I'm based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Kyle Rudge  8:40  
As the Manitoba provincial coordinator for MCC Thrift, it is Kristine's job to, well, coordinate all 16 of these shops and MCC. And like Gerry and Kevin her history with MCC Thrift started long ago in BC.

Kristine Heinrichs  8:56  
Well honestly interestingly, when I lived when I worked in BC, unwrapped Christmas gifts in January happened all the time. Well, I picked MCC before I picked thrift. I applied for a job. I was living in Abbotsford, BC. I applied for a job to be the executive. I think it's called the executive coordinator in for MCC BC and I didn't get the job. But they encouraged me to apply for something else. I was quite ambitious coming out of university thinking I should probably be the CEO of something. So joining MCC Thrift as a donations processor that was my original title, donations processor and receiver for MCC Clothing Etc. in Abbotsford, BC was my original title. And what that looked like was standing in the rain for eight hours a day receiving donations, physical donations from donors outside. That was about eight months of my job. And then I, I quickly realized that my job wasn't going to have as much to do with product as it was with people.

Kyle Rudge  10:20  
Because she visits all 16 shops in Manitoba, Kristine has a plethora of stories ready to go. It took a lot of coaxing to get her to pick just one or two and tell it. She landed on one from Winnipeg and one from Winkler. 

Kristine Heinrichs  10:35  
One of the managers recently recently told me about a volunteer. I'm going to call this volunteer Sarah. Prior to the pandemic, this volunteer had been there for eight plus years, wasn't extremely confident in their role, but really appreciated the community. And because of the pandemic, there was a lack of volunteers and a lack of capacity from the staff. So one day the the manager suggested that she tried being on the till. And from her starting to be on the till she just gained so much confidence. She decided to pursue getting her GED, GED and finishing her education after that. I was recently in Winkler. I think I can share this because, I mean, we're writing a story about it for MCC Manitoba. I was taking photographs of volunteers in the Winkler MCC Thrift Shop and, I mean, Winkler is one of these shops that has given and given and given and the women particularly in that thrift shop, have just been coming in 40 hours a week sometimes, you know, making floral arrangements or sewing together blankets for 15, 20 years. And you just imagine what that would look like if that was a salaried position. If that was a wad of cash that they had come up with through their donation hours like this. These people are the most generous donors towards the work of MCC. And many of them also have deep connections to MCC through being sponsored as refugees as children coming from Europe or having heard their parents talk about being sponsored and coming to Canada. It's like a deep, significant understanding of what it means to be in need and a giving back that's comes out of a gratefulness for for the peace and the stability that they experienced because of the work of MCC.

Kyle Rudge  12:52  
If you're interested in learning more about the 50 years of MCC Thrift, more of the stories and what's to come to celebrate the 50th anniversary, head to thrift.mcc.org/50. That's the numbers, five zero. 

Kristine Heinrichs  13:06  
If you're interested in volunteering, I would suggest contacting your local thrift shop. Going in person is the best way to connect with your with the thrift teams and talking to a manager or getting a application form in person. And we would love to have new new volunteers in all of our locations, all of our 16 locations. There's a space for you.

Kyle Rudge  13:32  
Congratulations MCC Thrift on 50 years of growth and support. MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance by Nikki Hamm Gwala. Thanks to Gerry, Kevin and Kristine for the work that you do and to the thousands upon thousands of volunteers that make MCC Thrift what it truly is today. I'm Kyle Rudge and this is MCC Threads. [MUSIC]

Transcribed by https://otter.ai