Editor’s note: According to Volunteer Canada, International Volunteer Day takes place every year on Dec. 5 to shine a light on the impact of volunteer efforts everywhere. The Chronicle is proud to tell the story of community volunteers.
Marsha Vandergaast does a bit of everything for Mission Thrift Store in Bowmanville.
Vandergaast was inspired by her faith to volunteer at the store. It’s her way of giving back to the community.
“I do think my whole volunteering desire, and my husband’s too, comes from religious experience. We were brought up that God has given to us, so we give back,” says Vandergaast.
She’s volunteered there for more than seven years and does everything from sorting items to taking unwanted items to the dump.
“I like to do lots of stuff so I end up doing whatever needs to be done,” says Vandergaast.
Vandergaast is a 68-year-old retired teacher. When she was teaching at Durham Christian High School, she devoted her time to Mission Thrift Store in the summers. “I’ve been there since about 2013 – so about seven years that I’ve been there more full-time.”
Unfortunately, scheduling for the volunteers has changed since the pandemic. Marsha now goes in only on Tuesday and Friday mornings. This is to ensure there aren’t too many volunteers in the back of the store.
In more regular times, Vandergaast will not only drive the truck to the dump but to pick up furniture as well. That has slowed considerably due to COVID-19.
“They needed a truck driver and since I had a B licence then I said: ‘Oh, I can drive the truck’.”
She would usually have someone from the store help her load and unload the truck. Under COVID-19, Vandergaast has recruited her husband to come with her on the truck.
She doesn’t sugar coat those trips to the dump.
“It’s mainly taking stuff to the garbage which is the most horrible job there. I feel like I’m really really doing something worthwhile because no one else would want to,” says Vandergaast.
Vandergaast was also occasionally the person monitoring how many people were in the store – a practice she says Mission Thrift Store is no longer doing.
Vandergaast is also involved with a group called Friendship. It’s a social gathering for adults with mental disabilities. They meet Thursdays but COVID-19 has temporarily halted their meetings. Vandergaast is also heavily involved at the Rehoboth Christian Reformed Church by helping with services and running the projector.
Some of her hobbies include hiking, riding a motorcycle and visiting her grandchildren who live in Minnesota who she can’t visit right now.
“COVID has really influenced my life,” shares Vandergaast.
Vandergaast is an American who to Canada for adventure in 1975 and married a year later. She also applied to live in Nicaragua and Botswana but didn’t hear back from them until she had already made up her mind about living here. She has dual citizenship.
“I’m actually proud again to admit that I am American. I tried to hide it the last four years but now it’s OK again,” says Vandergaast.
She says volunteering at Mission Thrift Store gives her a sense of purpose and the people she works with make it worthwhile.
“The people I work with are just amazing. It’s a lot of fun. It’s kind of a social thing too. In fact, before COVID it was very social thing for a lot of people there,” says Vandergaast.