BREWER, Maine — A Maine State Police trooper responded to a domestic violence call on May 27, 2010, and gave Melissa Lawrence a piece of advice that she believes saved her life.
“He made me promise not to go back,” she said Wednesday, standing inside her newly opened Faith Builders Cornerstone Resale and Donation Center, located in the North Brewer Shopping Plaza. “He said, ‘Don’t be a statistic.’”
Lawrence said she and her son walked away from the home she shared with her abuser with only the clothing on their backs, and that is why she is helping to provide clothing and basic toiletries to domestic violence victims and their family members.
Faith Builders Cornerstone opened its doors one month ago, and so far Lawrence has provided clothing to five women who got vouchers through area counselors or Spruce Run, a Bangor agency founded in 1973 that serves people affected by domestic violence and abuse.
“I used to be an advocate for Spruce Run — I was on the hotline — but it wasn’t enough,” Lawrence said. “That is why I started this. I figured this would be a great way to help them get back on their feet.”
She added later, “I know what it’s like to leave with only the clothes on your back and have to go to work the next day.”
“I didn’t realize it was such a big problem until I started working here,” Derek Easler, a volunteer at the store, said referring to domestic violence crimes.
Lawrence, who graduated from Brewer High School in 1992 and is a single mom, gave up a full time corporate job to open the business that supports her family, she said.
The thrift store, which has a table covered with Spruce Run brochures and educational information about domestic violence, is stocked with items donated by people in the community.
The clothing vouchers allow those carrying them to pick out a set of clothing and pick up a purple box filled by Lawrence with soap, shampoo and conditioner, toothbrush and hair brush.
“People give to me so I can give to others,” Lawrence said. “I would not be able to do this without community support.”
The thrift store will always have a rotating stock, and this week had new ladies T-shirts that still had tags on them for $2, as well as resale items such as knickknacks for the house, clothing, toys for younger kids, a kitchen stove and a couple pieces of exercise equipment in the back.
A total of nine protection from abuse orders were filed in court by Lawrence, she said, and her small family also has moved more than half a dozen times in the time since she left her abuser.
She said after three years, she is ready to stop hiding and that is why she has huge domestic violence purple ribbons painted on her shop’s windows.
“I am just one person, but I know getting the word out is important,” Lawrence said. “We need to let people know there is support available and we care.”
The resale store is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
Lawrence said she now feels empowered to help others, but still has one regret about the domestic violence incident that changed her life, and that is not thanking the trooper who helped her.
“I don’t think the state police trooper knows he saved my life and my son’s life,” she said. “He now works in Augusta [in the State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit] and I’ve always wanted to thank him, in person.”
Trooper Marc Poulin, reached by the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday, said that he doesn’t often hear a “Thank you.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.