If you wander along Main Street in my little prairie town, you'll pass by a non-descript utilitarian looking building with several large windows facing the sidewalk. If you pause long enough to glance inside, you'll see large tables, stacks of fabric, rotary cutters, machines, and ironing boards. If you linger, you'll notice the people who inhabit those walls and bring meaning and purpose to all those inaminate objects.
You may note a scooter just outside the window,
and just inside the door a hat, walking cane, handbag and water, and a recent copy of the Carillon News obituaries.
And that's only if you can get past this guy, wielding a hot iron and a lifetime of experience handling all manner of farming equipment.
It's some hardy lot, the octogenarians who frequent these walls.
Born in Russia and having emigrated to Canada at the age of two, Sadie Friesen's parents knew hard times. But they never aspired to fluff their own nest beyond what kept them fed and well. By the 1930's when pretty well everyone was suffering in one way or another, Sadie's parents were doing whatever they could to help the next one along. So from this heritage, she never found the need or desire to stack up accounts for herself, but reenacted the belief in lending a hand in whatever way she could.
While some anticipate retirement as a hard-earned oppurtunity for golf and pedicures, romance novels and breakfast in bed, Sadie and her husband John celebrated his retirement from farming, insurance sales, and bank work by moving towards their second career: volunteering. Sadie had already been working hard at the thrift shop since 1974, throwing herself into various aspects of the thrift store including sorting donations of clothing and housewares. On any given day, you might find the two of them hard at work for 8 hours at the store, only to take some work home with them to occupy their hands in the evening. Their volunteer contributions have included sewing cotton drawstring bags for MCC's school bag program, creating the drawstrings themselves out of donated nylon string, cutting squares for blankets, sewing the squares into blankets, layering donated cottons and linens to form blankets, and then tying a series of knots to hold it all together have kept their hands busy for many years.
John Friesen passed away this year. After a full day of sewing and cutting at the thrift shop, he up and left for his ultimate retirement.
Sadie still comes into the store every day, typically spending three or four hours of her time sorting and pricing, and another three or four hours working in the blanket room sewing on patches and school bags. At the end of the day, she often takes home wool to unravel, and crochets the tops of tea towels to sell in the store.
Mary Klassen's work station is just a stone's throw from Sadie's. Since 1992, she has been coming to the store and working on the blankets. When her church stopped having nay frayn (sewing circle) where the MCC blankets were previously made, Mary committed herself to ensuring that the blanket production would continue. What started as a one woman operation eventually swelled to include Mary's husband George, Sadie, and John, and numerous other helpers who assisted with tying up the blankets, cutting squares, and sewing patches.
The blankets are pieced together using donated clothing, linens, bedspreads, etc. Most of the thread is also through donation.
Large bolts of flannel are purchased from MCC headquarters on Plaza Drive in Winnipeg. They become the soft and cozy backing of each blanket whose top is constructed of post-consumer recycled fabrics and inside layers might be layers of donated sheets, table cloths, and blankets.
When accumlation reaches one hundred completed blankets, George and Mary load them in their car and make a delivery trip to Plaza Drive in Winnipeg. They've never even considered asking for a gas budget, but plan their trips to coincide with personal medical appointments and so do not feel that the blankets pose an extra trip. From the headquarters in Winnipeg, the blankets eventually are brought to the MCC warehouse in Plum Coulee where they are baled and then shipped to areas of crisis around the world.
My own mother describes a trip to Nairobi and a tour of the hospital there where she observed rows of patients covered in MCC blankets such as these.
Mary has never seen where all her blankets go. But after raising her seven children, and outfitting them all by purchasing fabric by the pound on Pacific Avenue, she wasn't ready to be still. Feeling strongly about the importance of the blanket project, she made it her own mission to ensure it didn't fall by the wayside. Mary drives her scooter to the story pretty well every day to work from 8:00 to 4:00, plus some Saturdays. She loves to work purposefully, and can no longer spend long hours on her feet. So from her scooter to her office chair on wheels, she is part of a team who produces roughly one hundred blankets every month!!
Her children are all grown now, and busy with lives of their own. She feels like the volunteers at the Niverville Thrift Shop have become part of her extended family.
In the words of her stitching compadre Sadie Friesen,
"I don't know what I would do if I couldn't come here every day."