STILLWATER — Three large tables at Stillwater Town Hall on Wednesday held both hope and safety.
Hundreds of donated cellphones destined for domestic violence victims in Saratoga County were on view. It is the latest batch in what has become an annual phone collection for those who have escaped abusive relationships or are in the process of doing so.
"We have a lot of phones over there, I'd estimate 200 to 300 — hundreds of phones," said Maggie Fronk, executive director of Wellspring, an advocacy group that provides services to victims and survivors, at a news conference Wednesday. "[These are] hundreds of lifelines for people."
Fronk, local law enforcement, elected officials and advocates gathered to highlight the program and October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Members of the public donated the cellphones this past year, as they have since the program started in Saratoga County in 2003.
The phones are wiped, then given to victims to serve as an emergency backup phone.
The Stillwater Police Department began collecting the phones years ago after learning of the need. The program has since collected more than 4,900 phones to distribute.
Sgt. Ray Cordani recounted a story told previously of a woman whose abuser entered her home. She grabbed the phone the man did not know about, locked herself in the bathroom and called 911.
"They save lives," Cordani said.
Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen looked at the tables full of phones and said it took her breath away.
Her office has two prosecutors dedicated to domestic violence cases in the county. Her office also prosecuted the domestic violence slaying of a Hadley woman earlier this year.
Heggen said she sees the phones doing a lot of good.
"There is a story that each one of these phones is going to tell for us moving forward," Heggen said, "and what it's going to do is, it's going to bring more people to come forward because they know that our community cares."
Fronk's Wellspring runs a domestic violence hotline — 518-584-8188. The hotline takes 1,700 calls each year, including five alone Tuesday evening, she said.
She's heard many more stories of victims going to their backup phone to get help.
The subject of phones is brought up when staff members talk to victims about their needs, their safety plans. They can then receive a phone right then.
"They can have these phones hidden in places that, in a crisis, they can make a call," Fronk said. "That gives a survivor a feeling of safety as they go about their day."