Bling for a Cause sale Saturday to combat human trafficking

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Margie Gohl, above left, and Pastor Rich George, of Alpena Free Methodist Church, display some of the items that will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Bling for a Cause sale.

What better time than the Christmas season to help those in need?

Alpena Free Methodist Church is doing that through its Bling for a Cause jewelry sale from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, with all proceeds to combat human trafficking and special projects.

The sale will feature thousands of new items, with mostly fashion jewelry and scarves, but some miscellaneous items, all priced from $2 to $15. Most items are $6 or less, and “buy two, get one free,” which would make those items $4 apiece. Other items include toys, dog toys, silicone bowl and mug covers, luggage ID tags, hanging closet organizers, jewelry organizers and jewelry-making supplies.

Volunteers are needed to work the event. To help, call 989-354-5351, or email office@afmc.net.

The sale is going on right across the street from the Ella White School Christmas bazaar. The church is located at the corner of Ripley Boulevard and Third Avenue, at 175 Ripley Blvd. in Alpena.

All proceeds will benefit an organization called In Better Hands, which saves children from human trafficking that is happening daily in Asian countries including Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.

“Unfortunately these are countries where, for $50, you can buy a child,” said Alpena Free Methodist Pastor Rich George.

“For $50, children are sold into slavery,” echoed Margie Gohl, who is heading up the sale. “…Our slavery was abolished in 1865, and we don’t like to think that slavery still exists, but it really does.”

“As crazy as this sounds, for the more fortunate ones, it’s for labor,” George explained. “For the less fortunate ones, it’s something sexual.”

The church supports missionaries with In Better Hands — Seth and Hlawn Hlawn Van Tifflin and their children Jason and Noah. The Van Tifflins raise their family in Chiang Mai, Thailand. They founded In Better Hands, which operates 11 safe homes in Myanmar and Cambodia.

“So what they’ve started, In Better Hands, is a group, they will do what they need to do to get children off the streets, buy them back out of slavery, whatever it takes, and then supports them in these group homes that are set up,” George said.

He said the homes have caring parents, and the children are given food and clothing and education there.

“When they see kids that are at risk of being drawn into that, they’ll bring them into these homes as well,” George said.

This is a very serious global issue.

“Every 26 seconds a child is trafficked,” Gohl said, adding that statistic refers to mostly in Asia countries. “…It is so wrong.”

While human trafficking occurs more often in foreign countries, many Americans may not be aware how frequently it happens here in the United States.

“It’s even happening to our own people, but if they’re bringing people in from other countries, it’s still affecting us, and our society, and our value of life,” Gohl said. “Michigan is seventh on the list for incidents of human trafficking (in the U.S.). Number one’s California, and number two’s Ohio…. and Florida’s number three.”

George said the church hopes to donate some of the funds to combat human trafficking in the U.S., specifically in Michigan.

“I did try to find an organization that we could contribute to (locally), but there’s only informational, and right now, that’s the best thing we can do is bring it to people’s minds,” Gohl said.

“The freeways are a lot of times where they’ll do exchanges,” Gohl explained.

There are two types of human trafficking: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Victims of sex trafficking are often forced into prostitution, stripping or pornography, even at a young age. Labor trafficking involves forcing children or adults into servitude for little or no pay, or slavery. Anyone of any age, gender, race or nationality can become a victim of human trafficking.

“In 2016, one in six runaways ended up sex traffic victims,” Gohl added.

According to a brochure from the Michigan Department of the Attorney General, “Approximately 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked in the U.S. every year,” and “Human trafficking is a $32 billion global industry.”

Unfortunately, many cases involve children.

Statistics show that “40 percent of human trafficking cases involve the sexual exploitation of a child,” states the brochure, titled “Human Trafficking: Break the Chains of Modern-Day Slavery.”

“Between 100,000 and 300,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation in the U.S., with an average age of 11 to 14 years old,” according to the brochure, released by Attorney General Bill Schuette.

For more information and resources about how to help stop human trafficking, visit www.michigan.gov/humantrafficking. To report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.

For more information about the mission of the organization In Better Hands, go to www.inbetterhands.org. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

George added that this is an appropriate mission for the Free Methodist Church because the denomination was established when the country was debating the abolition of slavery, and the “free” in the name refers to those who wanted to break free and abolish slavery.

Additional resources:

Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force:

www.humantrafficking.msu.edu

University of Michigan – Human Trafficking Clinic: www.law.umich.edu/clinical/

humantraffickingclinicalprogram

The Polaris Project: www.polarisproject.org

U.S. Department of State – Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons: www.state.gov/g/tip/

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: www.dhs.gov/files/programs/humantrafficking.shtm

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking: www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking