By Dawn M. Chiossi
On Saturday, July 28, approximately 135 caring people gathered together in Mt. Olive’s Mountaintop Church in Hackettstown to help the countless victims of Human Sex Trafficking, trying to bring these lost boys and girls home.
The event stresses helping these youths find their worth and a way out of their nightmare by distributing soap, and much needed helping information and resources to the hotels and motels that human trafficking frequents.
Human Trafficking is skyrocketing to be the number two crime in the United Sates, affecting youths as young as 12 years old and even younger.
Deeply concerned about the issue, locals from Mountaintop Church in Mt. Olive and Corpus Christi Church in Chatham Twp. decided to do what they could to help. After hearing the story of sex trafficking survivor Theresa Flores, individuals were saddened, angry and motivated to take action.
Knowing that more than a staggering one million people were slated to attend Bethlehem Pennsylvania’s nine-day Musikfest, often considered to be the largest free, non-gated music festival in the United States held on Aug. 3-12, folks became concerned. Knowing that such an extensive gathering is a perfect ground for predators, they became empowered.
These decided to drive to approximately 100 hotels in Pennsylvania to ask hotel managers, workers, clerks, housekeepers-anyone and everyone- to keep an eye out and be vigilant looking for the signs of trafficking.
Working in conjunction with Flores’ organization S.O.A.P (Save Our Adolescents From Prostitution) and Mt. Olive Mountaintop Church’s CAN: Church and Community Abolition Network, volunteers went armed with tools that could be a lifesaver for the victims: Bars of motel soaps secured with a red band that gives the National Human Trafficking Hotline Number (888) 373-7888. They passed out
posters of missing children from this area, information regarding human trafficking and much needed resources.
S.O.A.P. was created by Flores six years ago, out of her deep empathic desire to aid others who were enduring being trafficked as Flores had been. The program not only raises awareness about the all too common problem of human trafficking, it also educates, and extends a lifeline to those who need it.
With outreaches in 13 states and more than 25 cities, this organization is a simple, proactive, and hands-on-way for volunteers to make a difference. Traveling all over the U.S., holding outreaches during large, high volume high demand events where human trafficking is likely to occur, S.O.A.P., partners with local organizations. Together they distribute the millions of bars of soap with the helping hotline number on it, and give resources to high risk motels. Trained volunteers offer training to others so they will be able to identify and report sex trafficking when they see it in their establishments.
The mission is a simple one: Help.
Additionally, S.O.A.P allows participants of all ages and abilities to participate in this program. Even kids as young as nine years old, an 83 year old nun, and fathers and sons have labeled and given out soap with the hotline number on it. To date, more than 100,000 volunteers have actively participated. So far, one million bars of soap labeled with the hotline number have been given out nationwide.
According to officials, the Mt. Olive Mountaintop Church trek was extremely successful, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Jen Tillson, secretary of Mountaintop Church, was one of the many volunteers. In hearing Flores speak, she was inspired by how Flores transformed such a horrific experience into something altruistic to help others.
“She was a wonderful speaker,” Tillson says. “Hearing her was very emotional and very affecting.”
Passionate regarding helping survivors of Human Trafficking and making a difference, CAN’s Director Rev. Mandy Leverett describes CAN as a grassroots organization designed to empower everyone, volunteers and survivors alike, putting their fingerprints on the solution to this issue. While she recognizes the issue of human trafficking could seem overwhelming, she is undaunted.
“Everyone thinks that human trafficking is such a huge problem that they can’t do anything about, but it’s not true,” Leverett encourages. “Just one citizen coming forward, keeping their eyes and ears open, makes a difference.”
And it has already. In a staggering bit of information, Leverett shares that in visiting motels, someone will recognize a missing boy or girl who is being trafficked in a high percentage of them!
“It’s all about ripple effects, people, businesses, organizations, using their talents to do what they can do to help,” she says. “I’ve seen how that inspires others to do the same. A little does so much.”
For further information or details, and to see how to help, call S.O.A.P. at 614-216-1619 or visit www.soapproject.org.