Town & Country

April 2020

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Editor: Pat St. Germain – Country Town M A N I T O B A & WESTMAN Saturday, April 18, 2020 PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE M A I N TA I N I N G C O M M U N I T Y C O N N E C T I O N S MCC thrift shop keeps in touch through social media PHOTOS COURTESY OF PORTAGE MCC THRIFT SHOP The Portage MCC Thrift Shop fosters the spirit of community, as a social hub for volunteers and visitors, providing fair-trade goods and supporting good causes. Proceeds from a Ladies Shopping Night fundraiser in early March went to the Portage Family Abuse Prevention Centre and the MCC MB Abuse Response Prevention Program. With the temporary closure or restricted operation of every kind of retail and service outlet imaginable, the Portage MCC Thrift Shop, in operation since 1983, is tenaciously finding ways to safely carry on. U nder the umbrella of the Mennonite Central Commit- tee (MCC), the shop has a 'thrive through thrift' credo, offering gently used, donated goods for sale through friendly face-to-face interactions at the store on Saskatchewan Avenue East. It's also been a welcoming place where volunteers and visitors enjoy the spirit of community. However, with the need for social distancing to help curb the spread of CO- VID-19, general manager Kevin R. Hamm and the staff and volunteers had to find other ways to maintain connections. "It's certainly been a challenge under- standing what is acceptable behaviour at this time," says Hamm. "We were accepting donations by ap- pointment only and then quarantining them, but we stopped with the change in the public health order because we felt that it was inappropriate for us to be encourag- ing people to leave their homes." Instead, they shifted to focusing on encouragement. "For the first two weeks, we placed items onto a cart in front of our locked doors and informed people via social media that they could come and grab a puzzle or a game at no charge, and dozens of people stopped by," Hamm says. Wanting to give a boost to front-line workers, they put out the call for good news stories about health-care providers. They were flooded with nominations. "It was great to hear the reasons why people were nominating them and we gave away five fair-trade gift baskets." The temporary closure of the store is being felt by the volunteers, the majority of whom are at retirement age. They are miss- ing a vital social and service outlet. "We divided up our volunteer list amongst our management and we've been making regular phone calls to see how they're doing," Hamm says. "We are hearing for the most part that people are encouraged and doing well, but they're missing us and they want to come back to work. "When we closed up, a number of volunteers asked if they could take projects home, so they've been sorting and cleaning and packaging things." Hamm says he learned at a conference a few years ago that volunteering is good for the health of seniors, who fare better when they can stay engaged in the community. "The store closure is a temporary but necessary thing for their health, but we rec- ognize that this is definitely a challenge and we hope that we won't have to keep saying no to them for too much longer." One segment in the community equa- tion for whom Hamm feels deep concern is the store's "regulars." "Those are the people who come to our store not so much to shop, but to visit and to see a friendly face, to be recognized by name, to be able to have a place where they feel comfortable and are welcomed and loved," he says. "We know right now with closures of the soup kitchen and the drop-in centre, it's got to be so very hard for some of these people, especially those who are struggling with mental-health issues and those who don't have a job as such. "I guess you could say that in a way their family has been cut off." Hamm has seen some of these commu- nity members walking by the shop and he knows they're missing that important social connection. "When I'm at the store sometimes, I see them walking down the street and they're looking in our window sadly, knowing that they can't come in and that's really hard," he says. "There are so many ways that the more marginalized people in our community are being cut off right now, including the loss of the public library where they would access computers." While safe social distancing measures are a painful but necessary reality, the shop's staff and volunteers intend to be ready when their doors re-open. In the meantime, the thrift store contin- ues to partner with other community agen- cies, including Canadian Mental Health, the Salvation Army, and other churches. "When a local agency discovers a need in our community, they often reach out to us, so we remain open to our partners to arrange to donate needed items directly to people based on their recommendations," Hamm says. It is hard for everyone to be apart from each other physically, but he and his staff are keeping the lines of communication wide open. "Using social media we've been trying to buoy spirits and encourage everyone to stay active and helpful," he says. "We have such wonderful people in our community and surrounding municipality, we're certain that we're going to thrive, we're going to get through this, and while right now we're saying, 'I miss you,' we're looking forward to a time when we're going to be back together again." Visit the shop through its website at or on Facebook at Portagemcc. BY WENDY KING For the first few weeks of the lockdown, free games and puzzles were on offer in front of the shop. Wanting to give a boost to front-line workers, they put out the call for good news stories about health- care providers. They were flooded with nominations. INSIDE DELTA MARSH Spring is always an exciting time, as wetlands come alive with a surprisingly diverse population of nesting ducks. STORY ON PAGE 2 PHOTO COURTESY OF DUCKS UNLIMITED CANADA

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