LEWISTON — A Lewiston-based nonprofit hosted a get-together on Saturday to share the services it provides to the community.
The Kindness Collective of Maine is a family community support organization that helps homeless people, victims of domestic violence and struggling veterans by providing essential goods free of charge and no questions asked.
“Today’s event was just to get more people here to spread the word about our business,” said Bret Martel, co-founder of the organization. “We could let them know about our services and what we do. For anyone who wanted to come see what we have or know someone (in need), we invited them to come get whatever they saw and try to spread some good with it.
Working in partnership with other community organizations, such as Safe Voices and the REST Center, the Kindness Collective has pursued its goal of positively impacting the community through collective effort.
The organization operates out of a room in the Pepperell Mill filled with toys, books, furniture and clothing. Its inventory comes from Amazon return pallets, which contain items returned by customers. Instead of returning items to the original manufacturers, Amazon sells them at discounted prices.
Pallets are divided into categories, such as kitchen items or branded clothing.
Customers often arrive with vouchers for a certain number of items or which are sponsored by other community organizations in partnership with the Kindness Collective.
The space is laid out like a thrift store, with shelves lining the walls, overflowing bins on the floor, and a central table laden with clothes and gym bags.
“Sometimes there’s a sense of shame for people,” Martel said. “Instead of putting everything in place while we hand it over to them, we want it to feel natural. Part of the layout is so they can see things they hadn’t thought of.
Martel is a Lewiston resident and father of two who started the collective in 2021 to “put some good back into the community” as a personal atonement for his years of battling drug addiction.
Now recovering, Martel leads the collective with his mother, Danelle “Sis” Martel, his girlfriend, Sharla McKenna, and his aunt, Joann Cody, who make up the board of directors.
Martel said he felt the idea of a free store in a community where nothing else existed could bring change in a more personal way by encouraging self-improvement through positive reinforcement.
“We want to encourage them to keep working hard at what they do,” Martel said. “They’re doing something right, and we want to support that.”
Martel said since the Kindness Collective opened in March 2021, he has helped hundreds of families in the Lewiston-Auburn area, bringing in nearly $100,000 in retail value from pallets purchased from Amazon.
The organization is also accepting donations and plans to move into a larger space to house more inventory.
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