Blanche Mirault of Pembroke has battled the stigma of mental illness her entire life, but decided to turn those negative experiences into something positive when she opened the Got You In Mind thrift store almost 10 years ago.
It's no ordinary thrift store, as it also provides a safe place for the marginalized, the addicted, those suffering from mental illness and the homeless. When local residents feel they have no place to go and they hear from others about Got You In Mind, they are amazed when they walk through its doors.
Mirault is there to greet them with a smile and a hug, they are given food if they are hungry, and they are welcomed with open arms from anyone else who might happen to be there looking for a bargain item.
The second-hand store is a treasure chest of everyday basic items, appliances, clothing and a mix of eclectic objects. Whatever money Mirault makes from her sales is used to make welcome kits that include basic toiletries, some snacks and a hand-written note of encouragement.
When COVID-19 first forced her to close up shop last year, she was still working. During the lockdown, Mirault frequently received calls from the hospital or an agency asking her to help someone in distress. Despite having no income for weeks on end, she was helping up to 10 people a week find warm places to sleep, and making sure they had clothing, as well as other basic necessities.
When pandemic restrictions were lifted, the people who called Got You In Mind home, returned to their safe place. Mirault is known to give out brown-bag lunches and over the years has given away countless winter coats, boots, gloves and hats to those who have no money.
When her store and all of its inventory was destroyed by a fire in 2017, the trauma so overwhelmed Mirault that she was admitted to hospital. However, she emerged from darkness to start over and re-opened her store at a new location.
And now she is up against another hurdle.
The pandemic has been particularly hard for Mirault as she faces the reality of mounting bills, including yearly rent of over $13,500.
Teresa Hack is a volunteer at the store, and she said her heart breaks when she realizes Mirault’s dream may end due to a lack of funding.
In 2012, Hack said she hit rock bottom and pondered ending her life. Then she met Mirault.
“This total stranger did things no other stranger would do,” she said. “Blanche saved my life. She is an angel without wings and I have seen her perform miracles every day.”
Hack is one of many volunteers at the store and she has set up a GoFundMe site with a goal of $13,500 to cover one year’s rent.
“Blanche has given so much to this community and she has never asked for anything in return,” she said. “Now it is time for the community to help her.”
When asked how she will overcome this new battle, Mirault smiled and said she will do what she has always done.
“I will do what I tell others,” she said. “I tell people to always have faith and even when you think you can’t do it, just don’t give up. Turn every negative into a positive and never lose faith in yourself.”