By Grant Kerr

Sandwiched between James Bay's village church and an historic house, the James Bay United Church Thrift Shop crackles with energy on a typical Friday.

Located at 517 Michigan Street, the Thrift Shop offers a boggling array of gently used household items and art. Just about anything you need to make a house a home. Dishes, pots, pans, knick-knacks, clothing, books, toys, cutlery, pottery, kitchen appliances take up just about every nook and cranny of the two-storey building that was built in 1891 as a family home for Henry and Nora Munday.

Painted terracotta to match James Bay United Church next door, the thrift shop opened on Feb. 1, 1985 as a mission of the adjacent church. As volunteers work throughout the week to sort, clean and price the items that come through the door by donation, the JBUC Thrift Shop is open the same hours it has been for all those years: each Friday, 10 am to 2 pm.

Though 29 years have passed, the James Bay United Church Thrift Shop operates today under the same mandate as it did when it first opened to the public: to serve the needy of James Bay and anyone who walks through its doors. Everything inside is priced affordably, so much so that prices are more 1934 than 2014.

In celebration of its 29th anniversary, the Thrift Shop and the church's outreach team that helps run it hosted an anniversary celebration on Friday, Feb. 28. There was some surprise in the community that the Thrift Shop was open at all, let alone celebrating an anniversary, as it had been closed over Christmas and the month of January. But refreshed with a team of 20 mostly new volunteers, cake and coffee was served to anyone who came through the doors.

"That's the whole idea of the church's Thrift Shop," says Marg Lunam, part of JBUC's outreach team that oversees the running of the Thrift Shop, "to not only fulfill a need in the community, providing quality, inexpensive items to those in need and anyone else who comes to the door. But another big part of our mandate at James Bay United and the Thrift Shop is to be a place where folks in the community can gather to be known and to meet others. And that means anyone and everyone. That's what the church Thrift Shop was always meant to do."

Janine Czerniak agrees. Czerniak started volunteering at the JBUC Thrift shop not long after she and her husband started escaping the Alberta winter in 2004, moving to James Bay full time in 2008. To her, it was initially about the three Rs. "I am a big proponent of reducing, reusing and recycling. It's a big part of my ethic," Czerniak says.

The Thrift Shop undoubtedly diverts tons of perfectly good items from ending up in the landfill, but Czerniak's concerns for the environment isn't the only reason she volunteers every week. Though she doesn't attend the church, the Thrift shop was always a place she's felt welcome. And she pays it forward.

"For me, it's a sense of belonging in the community and each week I try to learn the names of one or two more people in the neighbourhood," she says of the regulars, sporadic shoppers and newcomers alike. "That really makes people feel welcome and part of the community."

Frances Jepson, 87, has been part of the team since the year the JBUC Thrift Shop opened in 1985. "It's more than just bargains. People meet their friends there," she says.

Lunam notes that the church Thrift Shop is always happy to accept donations, but asks people to check the website - - for what is needed. Donations can be dropped off Tuesday through Friday between 9 am and 11:30. You can also reach the Thrift Shop by calling 250-384-5820. Because volunteers are not always around, Lunam also asks that items not be dropped off without ringing the doorbell at the side entrance as items can be damaged by Victoria's unpredictable weather. "If you wouldn't pass it on to a good friend, then maybe it's not what we need," Lunam says, adding it's the overwhelming generosity of Victorians that has kept the Thrift Shop running for nearly three decades.