Proceeds of donation drive to help sex-trafficking victims, homeless
By Pamela Dozois
The Ranch Church is holding a “Sole with a Purpose” Shoe Drive now through February 15, 2022, in an effort to raise funds for Casa of Hope, a safe house for sex-trafficked women, and Abundant Blessings, which helps with some basic supplies for the homeless in Santa Barbara.
The goal is to collect 7,500 pairs (at minimum) of gently worn shoes — toddlers, kids, men’s and women’s dress, casual, running, hiking shoes and even flip-flops.
Ceci Stenger, who is spearheading the effort, is an advocate against human trafficking and is a volunteer at the Santa Barbara Human Trafficking Task Force. She trains community groups by raising awareness about the problem of human trafficking in Santa Barbara County and globally.
“I went to Ethiopia in 2014 and there I saw women who are in prostitution being exploited,” Stenger explained. “God just laid it on my heart and I began to research about this global issue. Then I went to the Philippines in 2015 specifically to meet with anti-trafficking nonprofit organizations.
“I found out that this trafficking is a big global problem and it just doesn’t happen in poor countries,” she continued. “It is an illegal money-making crime against humanity. Their product is human beings, which can be exploited over and over again until they are used up and then considered disposable goods. When dealing with arms and drugs, it’s a one-time sale, but a human being can be sold over and over.”
The Santa Barbara County Human Trafficking Task Force recently conducted a human trafficking sting operation focusing on rescuing victims of human trafficking, identifying and arresting their traffickers, disrupting the demand for vulnerable victims, and connecting victims of human trafficking with victim resources.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Task Force was established in 2016 with a $1.34 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. The grant was renewed in 2020 with an additional $1.2 million in funding for three years.
The Ranch Church has partnered with a social enterprise called Funds 2 Orgs. The shoes are collected and shipped to Funds 2 Orgs at little or no shipping cost. They are then weighed and the weight of the shipment determines how much money the church will receive, so the more shoes, the better. The shoes are then sold to micro entrepreneurs in developing countries at a very minimum price. There they will be repurposed and sold by vendors in their local markets.
“This project not only helps people here, it also helps people in poor countries to create small businesses for themselves, which ultimately helps them feed their families and get out of poverty,” said Stenger. “It’s not a handout, it’s a hand-up.”
The church then splits the funds between Casa of Hope and Abundant Blessings.
“California has the highest number of homeless people at over 151,000, which equates to one-fifth of the total homeless population of the United States,” Stenger said. “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something and that’s why this shoe drive is so important. It raises funds for those who have fallen through the cracks in our society.”
The main drop-off location for the shoe drive is at Ranch Church, located in the old Shoestring Winery at 800 E. Highway 246, Solvang, on Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon. There are also drop-off boxes at the Buellton Chamber of Commerce at 597 Avenue of the Flags, Suite 101, Buellton; The Coffee House by CHOMP, 1693 Mission Drive, #D103, Solvang; Valley Cleaners, 2528 S. Broadway #A, Santa Maria; Orcutt Presbyterian Church, 993 Patterson Road, Santa Maria; Kid’s Club, 1688 Copenhagen Drive, Solvang; and Signal Skate Shop, 1693 Mission Drive, #C-103, Solvang.
For more information, email Stenger at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, please call the Sheriff’s Office Anonymous Tip line at 805-681-4171 or provide an anonymous tip at https://www.sbsheriff.org/home/anonymous-tip/.