Marj Sawatzky sorting toys at MCC Thrift Shop on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg. MCC photo/Heather Lewis

Pricing for a purpose: One volunteer's story

Teacher-turned-volunteer gives back at MCC thrift shop in same neighbourhood as former school

Thirty years ago, Marjorie Sawatzky would walk through Winnipeg’s North End on her lunch break to the nearby MCC Thrift shop, in search of toys and items she could use in her kindergarten classroom.

The longtime teacher at David Livingstone School came to rely on the shop on Selkirk Avenue for good quality items at a reasonable price to keep her students entertained.

Now retired, Sawatzky volunteers every week at that same thrift shop, carefully sorting through donations, cleaning and mending toys and clothing for the benefit of the community she once taught in.

“I’ll unpack a beautiful plush toy, but it has a rip, so I take it home and I fix it and throw it in the washing machine and someone is getting a lovely toy,” she said.

From her years teaching in the area she knew there is a need for affordable items for families with lower incomes.

“It’s nice to see that there would be lovely jackets and boots, things that kids need at a very reasonable price available for the community,” Sawatzky said.

Now 75 years old, Sawatzky has been volunteering at the shop for nearly 20 years.

Marj Sawatzky at the MCC Thrift Shop where she has been a volunteer for almost 20 years. MCC photo/Heather Lewis

For many years, she worked on the main floor, ensuring products were well organized and speaking with customers, including some of her former students and their parents.

“When they come into the store, they’re cheerful, they're happy, they’re glad to see you and you hope you’ve had a positive influence,” she said.

Now, she spends much of her time upstairs away from the public eye. Even so, she finds it meaningful to see how impactful the good quality, reasonably priced items are locally, but also internationally.

Recently, the Selkirk Avenue shop raised more than $1,000 for MCC programs in Ukraine.

“When you hear something like that, and you know you’ve priced lots of the goods that went out the door that day. Lots of the items are $5 dollar, $4 items, and you feel like you’ve contributed to helping others,” Sawatzky said.

Part of the reason she comes back every week is the friendships she’s developed.

Many of her fellow volunteers attend the same church as Sawatzky, so they have a lot in common.

It’s very fulfilling in terms of feeling like you’ve accomplished something for humanity, for the church, for Christianity by giving back.

Others have become close friends over the years.

“There’s lots of good conversation, lots of good fun. You make plans at the thrift store, like we need to visit the [Canadian] Museum for Human Rights, which day do you want to go?”

Karl Langelotz, who manages the Selkirk MCC Thrift Shop says he’s known Sawatzky for 30 years, and enjoys working alongside her.

“Marj is also a dependable volunteer who will go that extra mile, filling in on days we need help and even adjusting her schedule and holidays to accommodate her commitment to the store,” he said. “As a manager, it is indeed a luxury to have volunteers who can take initiative and do work that needs doing without instruction or direction. That is Marj.”

More than anything, Sawatzky says she feels like it’s her duty to volunteer, and she feels good about doing it.

“It’s very fulfilling in terms of feeling like you’ve accomplished something for humanity, for the church, for Christianity by giving back.”