Ten years after Deborah Boulanger founded Mercy House's 1st Hand Seconds Unique Boutique in Albany, the non-profit has helped hundreds of women and moved just two blocks over.
The boutique, which serves as the fundraising arm for Mercy House — a non-profit that helps women in domestic violence situations and who are experiencing homelessness — has a new location at 411 Second Ave. S.W.
"This is the third location in 10 years," said manager Colleen Anderson.
Patrons can find women's clothing and accessories as well as bridal wear at the boutique and the money earned goes to help Mercy House's mission: helping women in need.
"In the last year we have helped 25 to 30 women," said Annie Enger, Chief Operations Officer for Mercy House.
Mercy House is based in Albany with a focus on the mid-Willamette Valley.
"We start there and radiate out," said Anderson. "We coordinate with a lot of other agencies and organizations in town. If we can't help them, we can find someone who can."
Mercy House offers women help with rent payments, utility payments, grocery bills and more recently, with transportation.
Women in domestic violence situations often find themselves unable to leave due to finances and transportation as well as an array of other obstacles. By helping to pay some bills, Mercy House can help alleviate one obstacle. By donating a car, it can alleviate another.
"A big thing that we're doing more and more of is giving away vehicles," Anderson said. "We get them through donations and then get them in working, safe order."
So far, the organization has donated about a dozen vehicles, not only helping women in abusive relationships but women experiencing homelessness.
In September, Mercy House released a list of its most recent client interactions including finding a safe home for a woman and her toddler escaping an abusive situation, paying car insurance, vehicle repair and electricity bill for other women as well as referring women to open job opportunities.
But as October — Domestic Abuse Awareness Month — winds down, Mercy House is still in need.
"We need vehicles and financial donations," Anderson said. "Just like everyone else with COVID-19 and everything, we're playing catch up."
The virus, and its subsequent closures and regulations, have hit businesses hard. And while 1st Hand Seconds is open, it's still reeling. And more women may need Mercy House's help right now.
COVID-19 has seen many families staying at home and while Mercy House hasn't seen an increase in asks for help, nationwide, the New England Journal of Medicine and other medical institutions and domestic violence advocacy groups have found that abuse cases have increased.
"We talked about it and it's an interesting phenomenon," Enger said. "We haven't seen a complete doubling or a quarter more calls and we have tried to analyze that and we thought, possibly, some women at risk are 24/7 at home with their abuser. They can't get an opportunity to call for help."
By shopping at 1st Hand Seconds, Anderson said, people can help make sure Mercy House is prepared to help when women do call.
"They're not just spending money," she said. "They're helping women and children in crisis."
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