In 2010, a handful of people who attended Purpose Church in Pomona, California, wanted to figure out how they might get involved in the fight against human trafficking. Like many caring citizens, some volunteers wanted to go rescue girls right off the street. As awareness grew, we began to realize we weren’t equipped to do that.
When Jeff Snawder heard Pastor Lisa preach on human trafficking, his heart began to break for those enslaved around the globe. Driven by a passion for learning, Jeff sought out every organization within driving distance of Pomona. After interacting with abolitionists at Oasis USA, Jeff suggested that Toney involve them in the Freedom Conference she was coordinating.
During the conference, Oasis staff, Jo Coles and Tamiko Chacon, shared their vision for traffick-free communities (TFC’s) all across the nation. Pastor Lisa committed to starting a group at Purpose Church and enlisted Oasis USA’s help to train the volunteer ministry team. Pastor Lisa and Jeff, along with Tamiko and Paul Hong-Lange from Oasis, met with a few members of Purpose Church to begin the initiative that later became Every ONE Free.
We began by looking at the model for TFCs from Oasis and identifying the key stakeholders in the community and individuals from those groups with whom we could connect. By researching massage parlors and adult entertainment establishments in our city, we soon discovered that there were not many of these businesses in our city. The majority of these establishments were located in the surrounding communities. Pomona’s problem was and still is street prostitution and sex trafficking. Though a Department of Homeland Security officer suggested that labor trafficking is potentially as rampant, our group has chosen to focus on prostitution and sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).
Local law enforcement helped us learn about the predominant issues in our community. When we hosted a community forum, Pomona Police Department’s two vice officers shared about Pomona’s street prostitution and sex trafficking. It was shocking to learn how notorious our city is for prostitution and that pimps and traffickers boast about the opportunities to make money here in thousands of YouTube videos.
Ongoing input from Oasis staff members became so strategic that when Pastor Lisa needed an assistant, Purpose Church hired Tamiko. She was transitioning out of Oasis due to cutbacks. With an undergraduate degree in pastoral leadership, having been a children’s pastor developing outreach programs for inner-city children, and a master’s degree in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller Seminary with an emphasis in working with children at risk, Tamiko’s background was ideal for the position.
As Pastor Lisa increasingly assumed the duties of an executive pastor, Tamiko’s strong leadership skills quickly propelled her into oversight of the group that became Every ONE Free. With limited funds and manpower, Tamiko wisely recognized that the challenges for rescuing survivors were far too great for our small group. But she also knew we could play a significant role in the city of Pomona.
The first event we put together was simply to create awareness within the community. A couple of law enforcement friends came and spoke, but at the time they, too, still had a lot to learn. So we grew. By pooling our knowledge and learning how to support one another, a solid relationship has developed with the Pomona Police Department.
From that first event, we began to expand by assessing our strengths and weaknesses. Because every segment of society needs to be involved in abolitionist work, the types of people who play integral roles are limitless. Business people donate goods and services. Media aficionados make videos, sing songs, and write poetry inspiring more people to get involved and soothing the souls of those victimized. Administrative skills keep efforts organized and the group on task. Moms and dads love on kids needing a family. Law enforcement, nurses, social workers, dentists, educators, and even bakers all possess valuable skills necessary to prevent trafficking, raise awareness, and support survivors. That became the mission of Every ONE Free.
The main thing our volunteers have in common is a desire to be involved. It didn’t take long before the simplest ideas began pulling our team together and making a difference in our community.
When Every ONE Free was granted a free booth at the Los Angeles County Fair (through the “free speech” initiative, which designates free booth space at fair entrances), volunteers distributed thousands of fliers to people over the course of this month-long event. This activity greatly raised the awareness of fair attendees. It also provided our volunteers a strategic opportunity to chat with those most interested in making a difference.
When Jessica, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu who specialized as a pastry chef, wanted to start a baking club for girls living in a local group home, several volunteers quickly agreed to help. The girls ranged in age from 13–17 years old and had been placed in this residential facility rather than a regular foster home for a variety of reasons. Goals were set to: spend time with the girls building relationships, introduce them to baking and cultivate some culinary skills, possibly inspire some to one day study the culinary arts and develop job skills. As volunteers faithfully demonstrated how much they cared, some of the girls began attending church, became believers, and were baptized.
Every ONE Free team member, Patty, regularly volunteered with our baking ministry. She shared about the ministry with her sister-in-law, Helene, who works for a large restaurant supplier. After mentioning this effort to mentor at-risk girls to her employer, Helene and her colleagues reached out to their vendors securing donations of equipment and supplies totally nearly $2,000 from a dozen different companies. The baking team had all their needs met and became a wonderful influence on the girls, opening the doors for ongoing relationships with the staff and residents.
In 2014, a generous donor funded a special event for the girls at a local country club. Every ONE Free provided a beautiful luncheon, which included gifts for each girl, special music, and a message from our high school pastor. The girls got especially excited about the fun photo booth and taking pictures with each other, our high school pastor, and the Every ONE Free team. This event was such a success that it led to annual tea parties for all the girls at the group home. The last one was held at a local tea room owned by a Christian woman. She was so moved by the story of our work that she provided a lovely tea for the girls at a discounted price. Our gift bags included make-up, nail polish, nail kits, hair accessories, lotion, body wash, and other toiletries. Donated by members of our church, these small treasures communicate a message of love and worth to each girl.
Launching an awareness poster campaign in our local junior and senior high schools was one of our earliest efforts within the local school district. Using posters designed and downloaded (for free) from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids (NCMEC), we customized them with our name and phone number. The posters were then distributed to each junior and senior high school in the community and displayed in the offices of nurses and guidance counselors to warn students of potential dangers.
Through a group member connected with the local school district, Every ONE Free received an endorsement from the district superintendent’s office. That validation opened the door to present our prevention curriculum in assemblies at all the junior high schools in our community.
An Every ONE Free volunteer currently leads a Bible study at one of the eight cottages on the group home campus. This particular cottage is the 30-day emergency cottage. Residents are often placed here due to extreme situations. As needs or special events arise, our organization helps out in a variety of ways.
Through the influence of Oasis/Stop the Traffik (our founding partner), Every ONE Free has conducted a variety of events to raise awareness about the use of slave/child labor in the chocolate industry. We’ve put on chocolate parties, served fair-trade chocolate, screened documentary films about slavery and chocolate, plus we provide a list of fair-trade chocolate retailers where fair-trade chocolate and other items can be purchased. Through interactions with Fair Trade Claremont, a volunteer community action group committed to raising awareness about fair trade, we realized that we share a common mission, so we’ve partnered on several events to share with others the importance of purchasing fair trade as a means to ending human trafficking. As demand goes down, so does the need to hold modern-day slaves in captivity to harvest cocoa or coffee beans and so forth.
We hosted a fair trade bazaar for two years, inviting fair trade retailers or organizations that sell items made by survivors. This event was held in the spring on the Sunday before Mother’s Day as a means for church members to do their Mother’s Day shopping and also support these wonderful organizations. We baked and sold fair trade chocolate chip cookies, too, and promoted our organization. For the holiday season, we provided a Fair Trade Christmas guide which listed suggested items and shops. We also promoted this on our website, Facebook page, and through a Pinterest board. Our church also provides an Alternative Giving Catalog that includes some of our missionaries that are involved in anti-trafficking work.
Inexpensive business cards with fair trade logos on them are freely given away by our volunteers, along with the encouragement to use them as they shop. Every ONE Free’s website includes an online guide for where to buy fair trade goods. New posts are added as volunteers find additional items available around town.
Our church supports missionaries in Thailand who are working on a clean water project. They also teach the hill tribes how to grow coffee. This coffee is shipped to the US, processed here, and served and sold in bulk in our church café. Whenever we have an event, we serve this coffee and share the story of how we purchase/serve/and sell direct-trade coffee to fight human trafficking.
Abolitionist Nita Belles wrote her book, In Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States, from a Christian perspective that includes an accompanying study guide. This book has been a valuable resource for new volunteers as they learn about a biblical perspective of modern-day slavery. (See also Justice and Spiritual Formation for additional resources.)
Once a month volunteer Susan Rushing leads a book club for interested employees at the credit union where she holds a key management position. After this group read In Our Backyard, by Nita Belles, the CFO could no longer in good conscience serve non-fair trade coffee to the credit union’s employees and customers. Now they only buy and serve fair-trade coffee.
Using “Stop the Traffick” branding to raise awareness, Every ONE Free printed and sold t-shirts, which has also raised revenues for our group. People frequently comment on how others notice these t-shirts and want to learn more about their message.
During the early stages of Every ONE Free, we began implementing an idea from Oasis. For years, they had been putting together freedom bags and providing them to various members of the Los Angeles County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Now, Every ONE Free supplies these bags to the FBI Innocence Lost Task Force, Pomona Police Department, and other local law enforcement agencies to distribute to the girls they rescue. From Los Angeles county to San Bernardino county to Riverside county, the contents of these bags help victims break away from “the life” on the streets and re-enter a sense of normalcy. Please visit our website for a list of the bag’s contents and how you can get involved in putting them together. You can also read several stories of how these bags have impacted the girls who have received them.
One of the best ways to raise awareness is to educate people about the issue. Screening films – particularly documentary films – that address the issue of human trafficking is an effective and simple means to do that. On our church campus and in a local movie theater, we have screened films such as: Not My Life, In Plain Sight, and Nefarious. We also provide printed resources and sell DVDs, books, and t-shirts at these screenings.
Kristan, a retired RN who volunteers with Every ONE Free, became passionate about teaching the medical community how to identify victims of human trafficking. Often the first to encounter a victim, medical providers can easily miss the signs and send modern-day slaves back out to their captors. Now Kristan has developed a training course to help the medical community know what indicators to look for.
Over time, Every ONE Free has developed relationships with survivors. With encouragement, a former trafficking victim started her own group to provide training and consultation for those wanting to assist former captives. Volunteers have assisted survivors by meeting their transportation needs and being their friends. Our church choir got involved by donating toward Christmas presents and a holiday meal. Our group hosted a survivor dinner at a local organic farm and also invites these survivors to speak and participate in our awareness events.
Every ONE Free collaborates with a variety of organizations within our community that fight to abolish modern-day slavery. These entities include: law enforcement, government, civic groups, churches, youth groups, schools, and others. Our relationship with law enforcement began with the Pomona Police Department and now extends to the FBI, ICE, and vice squads in other counties. In addition, we are part of CARE 18, a collaborative effort in Los Angeles County that includes more than 100 churches, many nonprofits, and people from a variety of different spheres in society. Through this type of collaborative effort, we became aware of needs at the Los Angeles Dream Center. This nonprofit provides services for survivors of trafficking, as well as for those still in bondage.
When we heard about the Dream Center’s ongoing need for outreach kits, we put our volunteers to work to put these small bags together. They contain a few specific items girls and women who are being prostituted on the street appreciate. Each year, we provide several hundred of these kits. The Dream Center needs nearly 200 each week.
Though Every ONE Free has had a few male volunteers from the start, cultivating ongoing involvement with men proved challenging—at least until we got involved with CARE 18’s outreach, Men Standing Against Trafficking. This collaborative started an entry place for men wanting to fight human trafficking. On the 18th of every month, they stand for 1 hour and 18 minutes on the street in a heavily trafficked area of the county. This raises awareness, as well as communicates a message to traffickers and victims alike—real men don’t exploit women.
When CADE, a Christian coalition in San Bernardino County, assisted a nonprofit to open Rachel’s House, a home for women coming out of prostitution, Every ONE Free sent volunteers to assist with the rehab of this large residence. In addition, we sponsored the furnishing of one of the bedrooms. Considering the following verse, it was our privilege to name it the “Jubilee Room”:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(also known as the Year of Jubilee)
The Jubilee Room is so warm and cozy that Rachel’s House has designated it to welcome new guests.
There’s unlimited potential for ways to get involved fighting trafficking. Every ONE Free’s motto: “Do ONE Thing” expresses how simple these efforts can be. Every Christian can and should be involved in some way. Why? That’s the topic of the next section.