Human trafficking is a rampant issue nationwide, with Houston being one of the top cities in which it occurs. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 100,000-300,000 children born in the United States are likely to become victims of human trafficking each year. It has become the second most profitable crime in the world, with a $32 billion industry. That’s a bigger industry than Nike, Google and Starbucks combined. Over the past year, the sophomore girls of First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood decided to address this problem. Through a clothing drive and donations, the girls gathered about 29 large bags of clothing and also raised more than $7,000, all to benefit Freedom Place, a charity organization that helps victims of human trafficking recover. The girls of First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood have been doing service projects together since they were in eighth grade, and this year they made helping Freedom Place their goal. They began discussing the issue of human trafficking earlier this year within their small group with their leaders, Carol Hunt and Laurie Alexander. One of the girls of the group, Rachel Cooper, felt very moved by the discussions they had about the issue of human trafficking. She felt that God had called them together to help the victims at Freedom Place, and from there she began the efforts. Cooper decided to start a clothing drive to help Freedom Place. She cleaned out her closet and brought in clothes that the church could donate. From there, she asked her peers and some of the girls of the small group to help. Eventually, the group had about 29 bags of clothes to send to the charity. Because not every person had clothing to give, the group decided to also accept donations of money and gift cards. From that point, the effort grew to not only a clothing donation, but also a monetary donation. At FPCK, the loose plate offering on the first Sunday of the month goes to a charity. For March, the church decided to use Easter Sunday’s collection. Cooper herself talked with the deacons of the church about what they were doing in the small group, and from there they began to gain church-wide support. When the missions committee heard of it, they elected to send the money collected on Easter Sunday to Freedom Place. At each service that day, one of the small group members stood in front of the congregation and spoke about what the group was doing for the charity. “I had one person say that they don’t usually put money in, but when they heard the talk at one of the services, they pulled out extra money from their wallet because they felt like they wanted to give to it,” said Carol Hunt, one of the small group’s leaders. “I think the fact that these were teenage girls trying to support teenage girls spoke to a lot of people,” said Hunt. When the money was totaled at the end of Easter Sunday, it came out to be $7,000. A ladies group at the church then collected another $2,000, bringing the total to $9,000 raised for Freedom Place. According to Hunt, the group never anticipated how strong the reaction they got from the church, and they were happy to be able to donate so much to such a worthy cause. Freedom Place helps victims of human trafficking by providing them with a safe place to live, medical care, psychiatric treatment, counseling, education, spiritual development, and even reunification with family or relatives if possible. It is a non-profit organization, and relies on donations and volunteers to run. To donate online or volunteer, visit freedomplaceus.org. For general questions or information, call 281-572-2300. Photo: Small group leaders Laurie Alexander and Carol Hunt with some of the girls who headed the efforts. From left to right, (back) Laurie Alexander and Carol Hunt, (front) Rachel Cooper, Laura Hunt, and Lauren Alexander. Photo by Amanda Ghica

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