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Anti-human trafficking event Saturday at New Life

News Photos by Darby Hinkley Above, New Life Christian Fellowship Pastor Michelle Smith totes one of the handmade, high-quality bags available at the boutique sale starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The bag she is holding features the names, ages and countries of survivors rescued from human trafficking. All the items in the sale have been made by survivors rescued from human trafficking, and all proceeds go toward helping prevent human trafficking and support those currently in safe houses.

ALPENA — It may be an uncomfortable topic, but human trafficking is becoming more prevalent throughout the world, including the U.S. and even Northeast Michigan.

That’s why New Life Christian Fellowship in Alpena is partnering with WAR (Women At Risk) International to bring handmade high-quality merchandise to local residents in a Pop-Up Boutique on the church lawn. All the goods are made by survivors or at-risk men, women and youth who have been rescued from the human trafficking circuit. All proceeds from the sale of these items will go toward raising awareness about this widespread problem, preventing further trafficking and keeping survivors safe.

The sale will be held outdoors from 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, followed by a peaceful demonstration calling for an end to human trafficking from 11 a.m. to noon with signs along Ripley Boulevard in front of the church at 317 S. Ripley Blvd.

Men, women and youth are encouraged to join in taking this positive stand. Children are welcome at their parent’s discretion.

“Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing branch of organized crime,” said Michelle Smith, who pastors New Life Christian Fellowship with her husband Gary. “It is international and it is happening right here in Michigan. Fifty percent of those lured into human trafficking are minors.”

Here are many more items that will be featured in the sale, including handmade scarves, jewelry, purses, children’s toys and bags, and resources including true stories about human trafficking.

She further explained that unfortunately, many of those young people are sold for sex at very young ages.

“The U.S. State department estimates that between 100,000 and 300,000 underage girls are sold for sex in the U.S. every year,” Smith said. “The average age a child is targeted and recruited into sex trafficking in the U.S. is 13 years old … Statistics reveal that the United States is the number one producer of child pornography in the world.”

Smith said she talked with school officials, judges and Michigan State Police officers who told her about trafficking happening in our area.

“A judge in Alpena told us that there is definitely trafficking that happens, especially around the hunting season,” Smith said. “In hunting camps in our region and in our area. That women are brought into hunting camps.”

She explained that the location along U.S.-23 also provides an easy route for human trafficking.

“We are also on a main corridor from Mackinaw City to down into southern Michigan,” Smith said. “And so, because we’re on a main corridor, people definitely are being taken along the main corridor. Also, the state police have told us, and I talked to someone in the Coast Guard, and we have open borders out on the lake, and they can’t be protecting everything. There is definitely stuff that comes and goes from the lake, and some of it it is highly suspicious for human trafficking.”

WAR International is a a nonprofit organization based out of Grand Rapids. Every $300 in product sales provides support for an individual to stay in a safe house for an entire month and empowers rescued women to earn an income with dignity, free from their lives in slavery. Online shopping is also available with a limited free shipping and handling discount when using the code found at https://www.newlifealpena.org/events or www.facebook.com/ALPENAWOVEN.

The event is sponsored by the WOVEN women’s and ROCK men’s ministries of New Life with the goal of increasing awareness of this worldwide problem, helping people to “see the unseen” and personally respond to those in need, even in our own community. Resources on how to recognize the signs of trafficking and how you can make a difference will be available.

Please bring a mask and observe social distancing. Signs are encouraged — please bring your own or make one on site. Sign-making supplies will be available at the resource table.

Hope Shores Alliance will have a table set up with resources at the event.

“We want to help people learn to recognize the unseen,” Smith added.

If you see suspicious behavior, suspect human trafficking, or need to get out of an unsafe situation involving trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.

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