ROCKY MOUNT, Va. — Many women have an obsession with purses. They love to dress in style and complete their look with a fashionable handbag. Recently two teens in Rocky Mount, Va., carried women’s obsession with purses to a new level by using them to raise money for victims and survivors of human trafficking — many of whom are women and girls.
Megan Vest and Jenny Bayer became aware of the issues of human exploitation through Acteens, a missions organization for girls in grades 7-12 at Sandy Ridge Baptist Church in Rocky Mount. In January the Acteens studied human trafficking, and the high school seniors and long-time friends both said they instantly wanted to get involved.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 300,000 children are forcibly prostituted in the United States at any given time. The prevalence and anonymity of the Internet has fueled the rapid growth of sex trafficking, making the trade of women and children easier than ever before.
Through an Acteens magazine, the teens also became aware of the ministry of Change Purse, a nonprofit organization in Greensboro that collects and sells used designer handbags donated by women through online sales, home parties and events, and supports faith-based organizations that work directly with potential or rescued victims, as well as survivors of sex trafficking.
The two friends decided to host a purse sale, not only to raise money but to create awareness in the community about the many forms of human trafficking.
“After that it snowballed,” admits Vest.
With the help of Franklin County High School’s athletic director, Sandy Coblintz, the teens received permission to hold the sale at the school. And they began collecting purses — all sizes, shapes and colors. There were numerous drop-off locations, including the high school, church and several businesses.
“We worked most every night for two weeks trying to get them sorted and priced — even until 11 p.m. on the night before the sale,” admits Vest.
On Sunday afternoon, Feb. 16, the cafeteria of Franklin County High School was transformed into a showroom as shoppers perused more than 550 new or gently used purses and wallets, organized by color and laid out on more than a dozen lunch tables.
“We didn’t sell anything that wasn’t good quality,” said Vest. And at the end of the day with 260 purses and wallets sold, the teens had raised more than $1,900 for Change Purse. The items not purchased were donated to the organization for sale online or at other events.
As shoppers waited to check-out, they browsed stacks of literature on human trafficking along with posters made by the Acteens.
“While purse sales help us raise money, our goal is opening the population’s eyes to the magnitude of this issue,” said Angela Moran, co-founder and North Carolina director of Change Purse. “We try to take any and every opportunity that we are given, whether through individual conversations or at large events, to speak about human trafficking.”
Believing that true restoration and healing can only be found through a personal encounter with Christ, Change Purse only supports faith-based organizations, said Moran. It is the largest contributor to On Eagles Wings Ministries, which has a shelter in Asheville for 12- to 17-year-old victims. This ministry also includes an outreach program, Rahab’s Hope, plus aftercare programs at Hope Houses in Asheville and Charlotte and a job skills and empowerment program for survivors.
“These two high school seniors are quite incredible, pulling off one of the largest purse sales ever,” said Moran who travelled from Summerfield, N.C., to attend the event.
Vest admits that it was a huge endeavor and the first true mission project in which she’s been involved but hopes “it will trigger a movement to make a difference.”
Barbara Francis ([email protected]) is on the staff of the Religious Herald.