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Thrift shop stores in Manitoba are putting their fate in the hands of the next generation. 

Traditionally, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) thrift stores have relied on retired seniors with Mennonite backgrounds to fill the majority of their volunteer base. But with an ageing population and personal lives becoming increasingly busy, some stores are losing their regular volunteers.

An MCC thrift shop manager, Kevin Hamm, says the company will eventually have to address this change in pace.

"In the case of MCC thrift shops and many others, we were founded by volunteers, and continue to be staffed mostly by volunteers, and really it's not a viable operation without it being so," Hamm said.

For example, the shop in Portage la Prairie has seen an increase in paid workers over the years, he said.

"I think it's something that in many ways we can't avoid because the volunteer base that we have now is, of course, ageing, as we understand," he said. "It's a very different mindset and availability that used to be."

At 108 locations across North America, thousands of volunteers help sort and price items, serve customers, and contribute to creative projects such as recycling fabric into blankets, according to MCC's website.

Most retired seniors are now more involved with family care and their grandchildren than in the past, Hamm said, which has made it difficult for them to find time in their schedules to volunteer.

"There's a much greater need for people's time and it used to be that a lot of the people who started working as volunteers at MCC thrift shops could identify spare time and didn't feel like they needed to fill their time. But now there's a lot of needs with their families, there's a lot of sporting events that are going on, much more so than when they were growing up - a lot of things that are happening that seem to fill time," Hamm said.

While people hesitate to commit regularly, Hamm says microvolunteering is becoming popular, as it allows for generally short and easy low-commitment periods of work.

"We're trying to reach out and help people understand that there are ways to do volunteering without the big commitment," he said.

As the traditional volunteer demographic gradually moves on, Hamm says he has seen many newcomers to Canada, young people, and non-church-goers take their spots.

"We've found over the years that a good number of our volunteers are coming from no church affiliation whatsoever, but they're enthusiastic about the work that MCC thrift shops do and they want to be a part of it, and they buy into the point that they're on board with us. They don't quite understand the bigger picture necessarily as far as our Christian mission, but they're totally supportive of being part of what we're doing, and they're an essential part of our work," Hamm said.

As the future of the volunteer base falls into the hands of a new generation, Hamm says the work done by current volunteers is something of great value.

"We see the volunteers who have been with us for 30, 40 years and there aren't replacements for them. Yes, there are people who can come in and do some of it but ... not to the same level of commitment," he said.

Money from sales at MCC thrift stores is used locally and globally to support the relief work done by the organization.

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