ROCHESTER — The Angels of Mercy have been a blessing for Josefina López.
The Dominican Republic native moved to Rochester two years ago and was sent to the nonprofit organization by the Department of Social Services. The work experience she gained there led to a job at the Girl Scouts of Western New York, she said.
So, now she volunteers with Angels of Mercy to repay the kindness she received there. The organization provides dresses to girls around the world as well as clothing to local women in need.
"I sort out clothes. I do … whatever needs to be done, cleaning, taking the garbage out," López explained. "I really like this place. I like what we’re doing here. I think it was a blessing for me being here. I’ve been able to help a lot of people."
Mary Jo Colligan, founder of Angels of Mercy, wants to help even more girls and women in the Rochester area, particularly those in crisis situations who need a place to heal. To raise funds for such a home, the organization is hosting a 5K "Stop the Trafficking — End the Cycle" Run/Walk on Sept. 28 at Meridian Centre Park in Brighton.
A portion of the funds also will be donated to the Victims Assistance Unit of the Rochester Police Department.
Colligan founded Angels of Mercy seven years ago as the New York representative for the Dress a Girl Around the World organization, which dresses children — mainly girls — in more than 50 countries to protect them from human traffickers. Each dress is labeled to show that the child is being looked after by an organization, she explained.
"I feel the Lord’s called us to … raise awareness and educate the community about this issue," Colligan said.
In the past three years, Angels of Mercy volunteers have sewn and sent 80,000 dresses to girls in 19 countries, including the United States, she said. Many of those volunteers are from St. Cecilia Church, which is part of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, and where Colligan is a parishioner.
"We realize trafficking is not jut an issue happening somewhere else," she said. "It’s happening in our own back yard."
Also happening locally is a need to help women who are re-entering the workforce or fleeing such crisis situations as domestic violence, which is why Colligan opened the Butterfly Boutique on North Winton Road last year.
"Many of these woman are told that they’re no good or raised in a home with violence," she added. "I tell them, ‘You are precious in the eyes of the Lord. You are a delight of the king.’"
Women are directed to the clothing closet by other nonprofit organizations, clergy or Angels of Mercy affiliates. The women are eligible to receive up to three outfits, including accessories and new undergarments, every three months at no cost.
Most of the donations for the clothing boutique and the Dress a Girl outfits made by volunteers flow in through "word of mouth," Colligan said. All donations must be gently used and made of fabric that is not sheer, she noted.
Colligan and Angels of Mercy volunteers sort through the donations and display the clothes on racks in the open area of the boutique and in the storefront’s windows.
"We run totally on donations," she said. "God is good. He provides."
Colligan said that the clothes are merely tools to help women feel better about themselves from the inside out. And that can be something as simple as helping a women find an appropriate church outfit, she added.
"You can feel the spirit working within you," she said. "I give them whatever they need. … But we don’t want glory. It all goes to God. He works through us."
Helping women feel good about themselves is important, which is why Lydnie Mercado said that she continues to volunteer despite her busy schedule. She has been studying at Monroe Community College to become a pharmacy technician and working at the Home Depot. She moved in with her sister from her native Puerto Rico a year ago and was sent to Angels of Mercy by the county department of social services to do volunteer work until she found a job, she explained.
Mercado has done a little of everything for Angels of Mercy — from sewing dresses to helping women choose outfits to creating the graphic design for the 5K fundraiser’s promotional materials, she said.
"Every time I get a break, on my days off, I go there," said Mercado, 19. "I just feel really good when I know that I’m helping others and I’m giving a hand to them. They (Angels of Mercy) are doing a great job. It’s just amazing what they do."
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information or to register for the "5K Run/Walk to Stop the Trafficking — End the Cycle," visit www.angelsofmercyny.org or call 585-730-4556.