TEMPLE TERRACE, Fl.— Dozens of pillow cases hang up to dry at the Temple Terrace Arts Festival, painted by laughing and smiling kids who stopped by the booth.
But the pillowcases are intended to have a much larger impact fighting human trafficking.
“Every little thing counts. Decorating pillow cases may not seem like the largest thing but it really puts a smile on somebody else’s face,” said Gabby Wiggins, the Vice President of the Temple Terrace Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council.
The council includes representatives from different schools in Temple Terrace. They pick a project each year, this year’s called ‘arresting human trafficking.’
Students have collected toiletries that will fill the pillowcases and be given to survivors of human trafficking at shelters.
“Temple Terrace is pretty generational we have a lot of kids who grew up here stay here. I know my mom was, and so essentially it’s just we grow up and we’re gonna be able to look for the signs of it so ideally it’ll never actually happen here,” said the council’s president, Karsten Mcclard.
Florida has the third highest number of human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in Florida there were 767 human trafficking cases reported to the hotline in 2018, 622 in 2017 and 562 in 2016.
“So often communities want to say not in my back yard it doesn’t happen here. It happens across the community and it doesn’t matter what your zip code is, children are being preyed upon,” said Temple Terrace Mayor Mel Jurado.
She said the city recently declared Temple Terrace a ‘no trafficking zone.’ They trained hundred of employees and gave additional training to first responders to make sure a victim is not treated as a criminal.
“The whole goal is when a victim receives this pillowcase, if it’s someone who has been treated just abysmally and has a hard heart, something about a pillowcase painted by a child has a way of softening that heart,” said Jurado.
In September, the Florida State Board of Education approved a new rule that requires education in child trafficking prevention for students grades K-12. The agency said Florida will be the first state in the country “to address the need for instruction in child trafficking prevention.” The rule requires schools to plan and document the delivery of the instruction. They must submit an implementation plan by December 1st and an annual report each yet.
Students on the advisory council said the experience has taught them more about the issue, they're now raising awareness about through pillow cases.
“We’re gonna stuff them up with toiletries that we’ll then send to shelters for people who have been trafficked kind of put a smile on their face just make them feel loved,” said Mcclard.
The festival runs Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.