It was soon after the Mission Thrift Store opened in Maple Ridge 20 years ago that the first unusual discovery happened.
Back then, the store was called Bibles for Missions.
A man’s suit was left at the back door, where donations are generally dropped off. But when volunteers went through the pockets, they discovered $6,000 in cash.
“We went to the RCMP,” said Ann Beerda, who has been a volunteer with the thrift store since it opened.
“I think this man put his money away, didn’t use the bank. I don’t know,” she said.
The RCMP held onto the money for two months in case somebody reported it missing and volunteers at the thrift store even put an ad in the newspaper: “A large amount of cash found.”
Nobody claimed it.
So the RCMP returned the money to the store and it went towards Bible League of Canada, the organization Mission Thrift Stores all over the country raise money for.
Another volunteer with an eye for detail recognized the gold inlay on a Cloisonné vase, an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects. The vase was put into the store’s ongoing auction, in which customers can bid on items displayed in a glass case at the front of the store.
If nobody else beats their bid in a week, then they receive the item.
Usually, items in the case go quickly.
However, two bidders battled over the vase for about six weeks.
The winning bid was $1,600.
Beerda, along with two other long-time volunteers at the thrift store – Janet Melissen and Deanna Renner, who have both been volunteers there for 18 years and counting – fondly reminisced about the store’s history in the community as they geared up for the 20th celebration on Thursday.
Renner began volunteering at the store only after going in to purchase a book. The books, she said, were just piled on the shelves and it took her over an hour to find one she wanted to read. So she asked if they needed a volunteer to categorize and alphabetize all the books, a task that ended up taking her six months to complete.
Melissen joined the thrift store team because she simply believed strongly in its purpose, “to convert used goods into cash to support the work of Bible League Canada.”
The league, she said, operates children’s educational programs, women’s literacy programs, pastor training, bible distribution, “and working with the persecuted church,” in 42 countries across the globe, including Canada.
The Mission Thrift Store was started by two men who travelled to India with the league and wanted to send more bibles to India. They came up with the thrift store idea to raise money and opened the first one up in Chilliwack 30 years ago.
Over the past three decades, Mission Thrift Stores in Canada have donated $100 million to the league.
There are now 52 stores across the country. The Maple Ridge store was the 20th to open.
The Maple Ridge store alone sends the league $15,000 a month.
The store also makes donations.
Clothing that isn’t sold is given to the homeless in Maple Ridge and Vancouver. The thrift store also gives goods to the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, the WomenCare Pregnancy Centre and the Friends in Need Food Bank.
Any money the volunteers find goes towards shipping for Christmas boxes for Samaritan’s Purse Canada, a Christian relief and development organization, whose annual Christmas campaign distributes gift-filled shoe boxes to struggling children in the developing world.
Thrift store staff have cared for individuals in the community who have undergone hard times, like those who have lost belongings in house fires.
The other day, a man, in his mid-20s, wanted to purchase a pair of shoes at the store. They cost $40, unusually expensive for shoes at the store, but they were brand new and cost $100 online, Renner said.
He wanted the store to hold them for him until he could find the money to purchase them.
“We can’t hold them,” Renner told the man.
A lady standing in line behind the man gave him $20 to purchase the shoes and he told Renner he would be back within an hour with the rest of the money for them.
So she agreed to hold the shoes. He came back, with almost enough money. Another customer gave him $5 to cover the tax.
Renner gave him an additional three pairs of socks.
Staff have more such recollections. But what they need are a larger building, to house all the donations, and more volunteers.
Melissen noted that the current team of volunteer is like a family and that volunteering gives them a purpose, especially in retirement.
“Some people say it’s the reason they get up every Tuesday, that they are going to be here. You are making a difference.”