*Pictured above is Ruth Jantz (left) shop manager at Sargent MCC Thrift Shop in Winnipeg and shop assistant Essence Matthews. Both say working during the pandemic has been a challenge, though adapting to public health orders now feels somewhat normal.
Since last March, MCC Thrift shops have been adjusting to the revolving door of health and safety restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has caused a series of challenges for the stores, yet hope remains throughout the uncertainties.
"MCC has been a lifeline for me," says Pearl Plohman, a regular volunteer at the Sargent MCC Thrift Shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Pearl has remained committed to her volunteerism despite ever-changing restrictions—even learning new roles while the shop had to close. Plohman's volunteer station was moved to the top floor of the building to accommodate social distancing. She used to sort clothing but now has experience "behind-the-scenes" too.
"It's felt uncertain," says Plohman, about navigating health and safety precautions.
Photo provided by Ruth Jantz
Mike Bagamery, a University of Manitoba master's student in natural resource management, became a Sargent MCC Thrift Shop volunteer following the first lockdown.
Why start volunteering during a pandemic? "I thought doing something community orientated would be a good way to spend my time that wasn't academic or personal," says Bagamery.
"I like participating in one of the less environmentally taxing forms of consumerism."
Bagamery notes it's a challenge to balance customer safety and customer experience.
And when shops had to close to keep volunteers and customers safe, there was a significant personal impact, says Plohman.
"God made us to be sociable creatures, so you do need contact with people."
Shop manager Ruth Jantz says volunteers have been flexible. "They've been great at adapting to the changes in their schedules, filling the gaps and figuring out a new routine.
"They're eager to continue as much as they can. They're so dedicated, even though it took a while for it to sink in that we can't do things as we normally would."
For Plohman, her time at the MCC Thrift shop is essential to her mental health.
"I'll probably come through this as a stronger person," Plohman says, eager to see COVID-19 case numbers improve so that she can return to her regular volunteer hours.
Plohman's passion and dedication for her work shine through even as she talks about her experience volunteering during the pandemic.
"You get paid so many different ways when you're a volunteer."
Despite the many challenges and uncertainties of operating a thrift shop during a pandemic, Jantz says volunteers were genuinely happy that the shop has been able to be open throughout the pandemic.
"It was important for us to stay open as much as possible to serve the community."
Shoppers who might not have credit cards can't shop online. Being open means more people can access essential items they might need, says Jantz.
MCC Thrift photo
Though there were many ups and downs, Plohman was still full of hope as a volunteer.
"You should have seen the piles and piles of clothes, they were almost reaching the ceiling," Plohman says, recalling the flood of donations following the first lockdown last spring.
Since then, the donations have been more manageable. But Jantz says they could always use more.
"This time of year the pattern is that donations slow down. We've done pretty well these past few days with people buying items, but we could accept more donations."
The Sargent MCC Thrift Shop accepts most items except large furniture.
MCC Thrift shop managers are hard at work adjusting to the regulations, balancing what is best for the volunteers, community and their own capacity. Both Plohman and Bagamery expressed their admiration for Jantz's hard and thoughtful work.
To learn more about opportunities to volunteer, donate and shop at local MCC Thrift shops, visit https://thrift.mcc.org/