In part because of its location in the middle of the country and proximity to interstate highways, Wichita is a significant hub in the practice of human trafficking.
Bailey Patton, volunteer and community outreach coordinator for Wichita State University’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking, said those factors make community awareness of the issue important. Wichita, she said, has responded.
“I would say I’m incredibly proud of Wichita,” she said. “There’s always room for growth and improvement, but especially Wichita has taken a lead on this.”
January is Human Trafficking Awareness month, which means many local organizations, including Patton’s organization, are stepping up efforts to get the community involved.
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Throughout the month, the center is hosting a number of events, including its first human trafficking conference, all with the goal of educating the community about the issue.
Another group pitching in is ICT S.O.S., which is working with other organizations to provide “fresh start bags” for trafficking victims and youth who are at-risk for human trafficking. The bags provide items like clothes, toiletries and fast-food gift cards to children and teens.
For children, a blanket and a small toy is also provided. For teens, the bag includes a journal and a pen.
Jennifer White, founder and chair of ICT S.O.S., said the program started at the beginning of last year when a police officer stopped by to pick up supplies for a girl they were assisting.
“’It would be so nice if we had this stuff bagged up and ready to go when we need it,’ ” she recalled him saying.
“We just kind of took that and ran with it.”
Over the course of last year, ICT S.O.S. collected 78 bags. In January alone, White said they hope to fill 100 bags.
White said completed bags, or individual items, can be donated to her office, above Mead’s Corner at 430 E. Douglas in Wichita.
From there, White and a team of volunteers will take inventory, then label and deliver the items to local agencies. She said ICT S.O.S. will prepare bags during its monthly meeting Tuesday, Jan. 13. The meeting is open to the public.
“I can definitely use some labor,” White said.
How to help
For more information on how to prepare a fresh start bag or which items are needed, visit www.ictsos.org/freshstartbags.
For more information about the Center for Combating Human Trafficking or its conference, call 316-978-5061.