NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — The payoff for a four-hour weekly round-trip to volunteer with Mennonite Central Committee comes in the joy of service, fun and fellowship.
Every Wednesday, some of the volunteers get up at 5 a.m. to drive a couple of hours from Manhattan to spend the day at MCC Central States, working hard and playing with just as much intensity.
Others live closer and volunteer on Wednesdays just to be a part of the group.
Their lively banter leaves no doubt they’re having fun:
“He who speaks the loudest gets the gaudiest stuff to model for us all.”
“There’s not much turnover here. It’s the pay that takes care of that.”
“They always try to give me their wisdom. Sometimes I accept it, sometimes I don’t.”
It all began with a family reunion at Bethel College in 2011. Stan Bartel and a group of relatives came to volunteer next door at MCC as part of their reunion and their efforts to pass on the spirit of volunteering to the next generation. Bartel saw what a difference the group made and resolved to keep coming once a week until the warehouse work was caught up.
Six years later, Bartel and Rod Franz are still coming from Manhattan, because there is always work to be done.
Baling donated clothes is one of the main jobs, as well as sorting shoes. Put a wide assortment of used shoes and clothing in the hands of fun-loving folks, and you can imagine some of the scenes that play out on any given Wednesday.
“It’s a lot of fun, but people work really hard here,” Jan Groves said. “Coming here is the highlight of my week.”
Groves is one of the locals who’ve gravitated to Wednesday volunteering because of the people he works with that day. Gerald and Lois Leinbach are there for the same reason. While Gerald works in the warehouse, Lois is in the workroom with a group of women.
“I have an MCC background for many years and have worked in the Akron and North Newton offices,” she said. “When I retired, I came to volunteer here. It’s school-kit season now, so we will do that for many months. I enjoy the camaraderie here.”
Harald and Lotti Boschmann also have an MCC background that inspires them to volunteer on Wednesdays, and it goes back to their childhood in Paraguay.
“I was about 7 years old, but time has not diminished how I remember the joy when I held the Christmas bundle in my hand which was prepared and donated by churches to MCC,” Harald Boschmann recalls. “Now Wednesday has become a highlight for me, when we bale around 10 bales of clothes, each weighing a thousand pounds.”
Lotti Boschmann also recalls the MCC Christmas bundles and the clothes donated to them once a year from churches in the United States. She, too, volunteers now “so that refugees can receive these kits so desperately needed in many countries around the world.”
Chatting or working?
Kate Mast, workroom supervisor at the Material Resource Center, loves Wednesdays too.
“The Wednesday ladies are so much fun,” she said. “There is much laughter and catching-up to be heard over the hum of the sewing machines. About half of them work on comforters, and the other half work on school kits, relief kits, hygiene kits or whatever needs to be done. Sometimes they apologize to me for chatting more than working, but I reassure them that community is a very large part of what we do here. . . .
“And of course that is most obvious when the guys from the warehouse come show us their ‘treasures,’ such as old prom dresses or 6-inch high heels.”
It isn’t all fun and games, and the work that is done is invaluable.
“MCC is incredibly fortunate to have tens of thousands of volunteers that help carry out our mission,” said Maynard Knepp, Central States director of donor relations. “Some may come once a year, some participate around the holidays, and then we have those that come every week like our Wednesday group. . . .
“It really brings a positive and fun atmosphere. These folks leave an impression with the staff of MCC and other people in the community. It becomes contagious to others who want to participate on Wednesdays.”