Patricia Lopez, co-owner of Tulips Thrift Store, has a vision for a women’s shelter to be funded by proceeds from the shop. EDWINA HOYLE

Tulips Thrift Store has been open for two years and recently completed renovations has doubled its size. Located in Sheridan Park, Bluffton, it is the dream-child of executive director, Patricia Lopez. Her vision was to open the store as a means to raise money for a long-term residence for victims of domestic violence. 

Tulips is a registered nonprofit organization that Lopez believes will continue to grow, and for her, Tulips itself is a miracle.

Lopez is passionate about Tulips’ mission because of her own journey through the dark web of domestic abuse. She doesn’t like sharing details because she has forgiven and moved on with her life, and because she was always careful not to reveal too much because she never wanted to ruin the reputation of her former husband. Ironically, poisoned lies told about her only further isolated her from her community.

She said she left him two or three times but he would cry, ask for forgiveness and beg her to come back. Lopez held out hope that he would change, but he never did. 

She was married for just under a decade. Lopez finally went to a shelter, then moved out of state. 

The idea of opening a thrift store here sprang from her experience and she started collecting things and storing them in a garage. She worked as a cleaner and when people asked her if she wanted a lamp, a table, just about anything, she never said no. 

Lopez filled her garage. Eventually, she and her friend, Lorena Hernandez, pooled their money, became partners and opened Tulips Thrift Store. 

Lopez stated that most shelters for victims of domestic abuse are like hotel rooms – short stays and ugly. Now, the miracle she hopes for is to open a long-term residence somewhere in Jasper County. “I don’t want a hotel. I want to restore women, to start a life again,” she said. Her hope is that someone will hear her call and donate a house, or land, or enough money to buy property.

She envisions a home with at least 10 to 12 bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, and a couple of meeting rooms. 

“The point is to have a long-term place with professional staff and volunteers where women can live with hope, confidence and be happy despite a bad situation,” Lopez said. “If the women are fine, the kids will also be fine. When we get a place – when that happens, we’ll have a lot of help. There are so many similar stories.”

The goal for the residential facility is to provide a safe place, in an undisclosed location for safety, where women can find peace and stability. A psychologist or counselor will provide one-on-one counseling and support groups. 

There will be pro bono legal help, and various classes – all to enable women to heal, rest, and rebuild their lives – and to help them avoid going back into an abusive relationship. 

Lopez has a deep faith, and 21 years of experience as a pastor. Two years ago, on the very same day, she signed a lease for the thrift shop and a contract to serve as pastor at Fey y Gloria (Faith and Glory Church) in Hardeeville. 

Lopez teaches a six-week class at the church called Interior Healing, which she intends to integrate into the programs at the residential center. 

“Interior Healing involves many things like learning to love yourself, to hope, to learn to survive alone, to do something else. The men tell abused women that they can’t survive alone,” Lopez explained. When her second miracle happens, she already has a name for the residence: Brillo de Mujer Home (Brilliant Light of Women). 

Her message to women who experience abuse is, “Don’t keep quiet. Look for help. Look for interior healing for yourself and for your children. We are not healing when everything we see is ugly,” she said. “The devil used to tell me I couldn’t do it, but God wants what’s best for every child.”

Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.