Story By: Gianluca D’Elia

MOUNT LAUREL — During a time when many individuals affected by domestic violence are quarantined at home with their abusers, Mount Laurel’s Sarah Ripoli has felt an extra push to make her community aware of the issue.

Born in Medford, the current Hoboken resident is the founder of Angel Energy, a clothing line that donates a portion of its proceeds to a different domestic violence charity every month.

Ripoli has also teamed up with current Miss New Jersey USA Gina Mellish, of Oceanport, Monmouth County, who is currently finishing her bachelor’s in fashion merchandising. The pair met through a mutual friend who knew they were both passionate about domestic violence, and from there, the two formed an instant connection.

With the state on lockdown, and some privacy being taken away from domestic violence victims, Ripoli said it’s more important now than ever to be aware of the signs, know the resources that are available, and to help out organizations that provide support.

“There has been a surge in domestic violence globally as a result of coronavirus,” Ripoli said. “Victims are co-quarantined with their abusers, and it leads to the perfect storm for violent behavior behind closed doors.”

That uptick has been seen in Burlington County too, according to the prosecutor’s office.

“People who use work as their outlets no longer have that privacy they once had,” Ripoli added. “Even post-pandemic, the after-effects of financial hardship and things of that nature really do affect domestic violence. It definitely can escalate because of this.”

Ripoli has seen the effects of domestic violence firsthand, having lost her mother to relationship violence when she was 6. Now in her 20s, Ripoli started the clothing line in her mom’s memory.

Angel Energy’s latest effort is to benefit the Hudson County-based organization WomenRising, in honor of Jersey City chef Garima Kothari, who died in an alleged murder-suicide in late April.

Ripoli and Mellish are also working on a larger collaborative collection for the clothing line that will debut in June.

“We’re creating a capsule collection,” Ripoli explained. “We worked with Gina in March to design a sweatshirt, and now we’re adding on a few more pieces to launch on June 1.”

Mellish, who said she’s a former victim of relationship abuse, wanted the clothing collaboration to be a positive way to make people aware of the issue they’re focusing on.

“I feel blessed that I have this platform,” Mellish said. “I can use it to remind people, ‘I’m Miss New Jersey and I went through this, and it doesn’t mean you can’t come out on the other side.’”

Mellish is now an escalation training facilitator for the One Love Foundation, an organization that educates students on relationship abuse. She says it helped her get out of an unhealthy relationship in college after she met a presenter who led a workshop with her sorority.

She also has been working with state officials in her area on legislation that would establish a code word for abuse victims to use in pharmacies, to signal that they need help.

“I want to get the word out to educate young men and women on unhealthy signs in relationships so they don’t escalate into abusive behaviors,” Mellish said.

“We vibed together, and we wanted to bring a silver lining out of something dark,” she said of her partnership with Ripoli. “We came up with a collaboration sweatshirt, Miss New Jersey and Angel Energy together.”

Fortunately, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t slowed down the pair’s efforts to educate others on domestic violence.

“Ultimately, during the quarantine, we’ve been trying to advocate as much as possible, sharing resources for victims, hosting Instagram Lives to talk about the statistics and what’s going on,” Mellish said.

Ripoli, who studied public relations in college but has always loved fashion, said she wants to continue expanding her clothing brand and its message.

“It’s healing for me personally, and connecting with people who’ve been through something similar has been therapeutic in every way,” Ripoli said. “It’s crazy that some other countries are so far behind with laws regarding domestic violence, so to do what I’m doing on a global level, long-term, is my goal for the company.”

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