PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — The Salvation Army is hoping to continue its mission of helping domestic violence victims in the community.

The Empty Stocking Fund is what makes it possible to continue helping domestic violence survivors like Tika Thompson.

“I had known him for over ten years since high school,” Thomspon said.

That’s why Thompson didn’t think she would be in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship for three years.

“Things were becoming abusive within the first few months, but I did decide to stay,” Thompson said.

One night, it took a turn for the worst.

“It escalated pretty quickly that night, that was the first time he was straight-up hitting me, but prior to that, it was mainly just pouring beer on me or sometimes pulling my hair and things like that and choking,” Thompson said.

And that choice to stay made her hope for a brighter future.

“Long story short, I ended up in Panama City at the time, the shelters were full, but the night that me and my ex got into it the Panama City Police Department, they called the shelter and spoke to the housing manager, and he was able to get me in within 72 hours and he made room for me,” Thompson said.

The Salvation Army shelter was the hope Thompson had been waiting and searching for.

“Where should I start? The Salvation Army…I’m not a very faith-believing person. I believe that there’s a higher power, but I definitely feel as though people who work at the Salvation Army, God was definitely working through them when I was at the Salvation Army, and they provided all the food that we would need and clothing if we didn’t have any,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she packed her bags three or four times before leaving for good.

“I called the police and left on Valentine’s Day, I moved to Jacksonville for about a month or so and I felt bad for him not being able to see his daughter every day, I mean, not knowing my dad,” Thompson said.

She said it was fear that trapped her in the relationship.

“When I finally decided that I was going to leave him and go to the shelter or any shelter I was scared was going to be what you see in the movies,” Thompson said. “One giant room and cots and everything and it is anything but that, they make you feel welcome, they make you feel like a family.”

Thompson credits her counselor from the Salvation Army for helping her regain her strength and find herself again.

“Literally when I first got to the shelter, I was having moments where if my daughter was sleeping, I would just sit in the bed and cry because I didn’t know how I was going to get back on my feet,” Thompson said. “We have an allotted time that we have at the shelter, I was embarrassed, so I didn’t talk to my family about most of it.”

Thompson has filed her third restraining order against her boyfriend.

“But I would definitely say it’s worth it, the little embarrassment that you’re going to get, the backlash from family and friends telling you what you already knew in the back of your mind,” Thompson said. “I will say that some people change, but not on their own. Some people need mental help and if they’re not willing to get it, then they don’t deserve you. It’s just that simple. They don’t deserve to abuse you.”

Thompson got to the Salvation Army in July after three and half years of abuse.

“One thing I will say is if I would have known that the Salvation Army has a place like this, I would have left almost immediately,” Thomspon said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. There are resources out there. You just have to be strong enough to go and get them.”

Now she’s starting over, for herself, her baby and her three-year-old daughter Hope.

“So I honestly believe, even with family support, that if it wasn’t for the Salvation Army, I would not be where I am,” Thompson said. “I have a car, I have a job, I have my own house. I just gave birth to a healthy baby. I definitely would not have made it. I probably will be in a mental house right now if it wasn’t for them trying to get myself together thinking that I was the problem. If it wasn’t for them, I definitely it’s scary to honestly think about what the outcome would be without a safe haven like shelters such as the Salvation Army.”

There is still time to donate to the Empty Stocking Fund. You can click here to donate.

You can also drop a check by the deposit box in the Bill Cramer Chevrolet showroom.

Or you can drop off or mail your donations directly to the Salvation Army at 1824 West 15th Street in Panama City.