One of the things I truly appreciate about the Catholic school education my children have received is the expectation of service. At Andrean, where my oldest son and daughter attended, and Marquette, where my son is now a junior, the students must perform a few dozen hours each school of volunteer work. As far as I know, those obligations are standard practice in the parochial school system.
It was that system that brought Cormac and I to Duneland Community Church on Saturday morning. Cormac was there to move closer to his service-hour requirement. I wanted to learn about the program he was volunteering for, Free the Girls.
Free the Girls is a Chesterton-based organization designed to help young women who had been victims of human trafficking as they rebuild their lives. It’s active in three developing countries: Mozambique, El Salvador and Costa Rica. The organization was founded in 2010 by Dave Terpstra and his wife, who were simply looking for a way for ordinary people to help fight the global scourge that is human trafficking.
The organization is not engaged in extricating the women from captivity, or the immediate rehabilitation process. Instead, they are focused on the next step in the process. “That’s our niche: reintegration,” says Terpstra.
Free the Girls accomplishes it’s goal through a rather simple model. It collects gently used bras from all over the country, then ships them to the organization and partner organizations in the three countries. There, the freed women sell them into the active used clothing markets in those countries.
The women are charged, after sale, half-price for the first batch of bras, which goes up to full price after several cycles. After a year of selling only bras, the women must add a second product line that they can obtain from wholesalers to then sell in addition to the undergarment.
After the two years, they’re no longer eligible to sell the bras, but they have that additional product that they can continue to sell. “They know how to sell in the local market,” he explains. The idea is to leave them prepared to build a life after exiting the program.
The bras are collected in a variety of ways. The group has drop-off sites around the country. American Eagle’s Aerie brand also runs a drop-off site, with any donors receiving 15 percent off the purchase of a new bra. And some bras simply get sent in via the mail.
They all come to Chesterton, chosen as the site because its pastor is on the board of directors at Free the Girls and the church is housed in a former warehouse. It was the perfect location from which to operate such an enormous endeavor.
Once a month or so, volunteers such as the Marquette kids and the others there Saturday are brought in to spend a few hours sorting and packing the donations that came in for shipment to the three countries.
“We’re just asking for a couple of hours of time. Yes, we’d love money, but right now we’re just interested in people’s time,” says Pam Gumns, warehouse manager.
“My favorite part of Free the Girls is just seeing what the average person can do just by showing up. If these people didn’t show and pack boxes, then these women couldn’t improve their lives and get out of trafficking. There’s a very tangible collection,” says Terpstra, who spends most of his time in Mozambique.
If you’d like more information about Free the Girls or how to help, visit http://www.freethegirls.org. Gently used bras can be sent to Free The Girls, 1552 Pioneer Trail, Chesterton, IN 46304.