Shortage of volunteers ends MCC relief sale in Winnipeg after 16 years

A poorly attended planning meeting was a clear sign that it was time to dissolve the committee and end the sale

November 8, 2010 | Web First
Gladys Terichow | Mennonite Central Committee, Canada

Faced with a shortage of volunteers willing to fill leadership positions, the committee that organizes the popular and successful Winnipeg MCC Festival and Relief Sale has dissolved.

Each year in June, the sale brought together about 3,000 people and contributed close to $100,000 for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) programs.

“We are extremely grateful to the many volunteers who helped make this sale happen,” said Peter Rempel, executive director of MCC Manitoba. “The sale not only generated funds for MCC, but it was a wonderful community building event. We have been blessed.”

Now that the sale committee has dissolved, it is hoped that smaller committee's will be formed to organize smaller, more cost-effective events, said Sheila Giesbrecht, who was the sale committee chair from 2008-2010.

Plans are already underway to organize a quilt and craft sale, walk-a-thon, the annual banquet and possibly a plant sale for 2011. Each event will be organized by people who have a passion for the events they are planning, said Giesbrecht.

“Our communities are changing,” she said. “People are busy with their grandkids and kids and doing other things. People are overextended and choosing carefully where they want to put their time and energy.”

Started in 1994, the organizing committee has been successful in planning events that attract large crowds and finding volunteers to work the day of the sale.

Activities that helped make the sale a success included meals and food booths, a silent auction, children’s activities, music concerts, penny power, a quilt show and sale, used book sale, plant sale, garage sale and more.

Giesbrecht, who moved to Winnipeg just a few years ago, said many of these activities have been organized by the same group of people since the sale started. Without the support and energy of new volunteers taking over leadership positions, the sale could not continue.

In the spring of 2010, the sale committee made a decision to cancel the 2010 sale, test the success of replacing the sale with smaller events and evaluate this decision in the fall. Only nine people showed up at a widely-publicized meeting this fall to discuss the future of the sale.

This poorly attended meeting was a clear sign that it was time to dissolve the committee and end the sale, said Giesbrecht. Although the decision was accompanied by sadness, Giesbrecht said there was also “a collective sigh of relief.”

Meanwhile, the success of smaller events held in 2010 show potential for growth, said Paul Friesen, resource development coordinator for MCC Manitoba.

About 100 people participated in the multi-generational Families Walking for Families walk-a-thon, a three-kilometre walk that that replaced the penny power project associated with the sale. The walk and penny power raised over $24,000 and created awareness of Global Family, MCC’s education sponsorship program.

The quilt show and sale, formerly one of the activities at the Winnipeg sale, took place in MCC’s building on Plaza Drive in Winnipeg. More than 600 visitors participated in this two-day event that generated sales and donations of over $13,000, the highest amount ever raised at this type of sale.

The annual March banquet, a long-standing activity that raised funds for MCC, will continue to raise funds for MCC programs with a renewed emphasis to increase the number of people attending the banquet and donations to MCC, said Friesen. In 2010, the banquet raised over $18,000.

The Winnipeg sale was one of three relief sales in Manitoba. Relief sales also take place in Brandon and Morris with each sale attracting large crowds and contributing about $100,000 each to MCC.

Friesen said committees responsible for the Morris and Brandon sales are also having a hard time finding new volunteers to fill leadership positions. The difficult decision made by the Winnipeg sale committee, he said, shows the importance of sale committees adopting an organizational structure that has set terms for committee members and a process for mentoring new volunteers.

The Morris and Brandon sales are among 13 sales in Canada. The Canadian sales, along with 30 relief sales in the U.S. contribute over $5 million annually for MCC programs.

Other annual events organized by volunteers in Manitoba in support of MCC include Bike Manitoba held on a rotational basis throughout the province, Cycle Clear Lake and a golf tournament.

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