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Sex trafficking task force begins annual fundraiser

Beginning this week, businesses around Lake County might be seeing some familiar faces turn up around their stores and offices.

Representatives of the Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force will be going door-to-door to local businesses to support their efforts around the community to raise awareness and educate the community about the crime.

The task force was founded in February 2013 by Sue Hilliard and Marlys Wisch after they attended a panel discussion and learned that human trafficking wasn't just a problem in large cities and far off places, it can happen in small communities and rural areas like Lake County. The all-volunteer organization's goal is to raise awareness about human trafficking in Lake County and stop the growth of the crime.

Hilliard said the group is almost completely funded by gifts from individuals and businesses in the community and the money goes to support the programming provided by the group. In honor of Sex Trafficking Awareness Month in January, the group will again hold its candlelight vigil at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 4 in the atrium of the Lake County Courthouse in Two Harbors and later in the month the group is bringing a professionally produced play called "Bottom" to the area. The play will be performed at 3 p.m. Jan. 29, but the group hasn't settled on a location yet. The cost of bringing the play to the area is pretty high, but Hilliard says that she believes it will be worth the expense.

"We want to offer it at no charge to the public, so we are reaching out for help with that specifically as well as for our overall program," she said.

The group also does presentations to churches, book clubs or other organizations interested as well as a weekly radio show on KTWH, Two Harbor community radio station. The task force also hosted the first of two roundtable events in May called "Building Bridges: A collaborative approach ending the sex trafficking of our youth." The second phase of the program will be from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Beaver Bay Community Center.

Hilliard said the size of the donation doesn't matter, the group is happy to receive any sort of gift people are willing to give. Last year, Lake County Ambulance placed a jar during the fundraising drive next to the coffee maker and people would throw in some change or whatever they had when they were filling their mugs. At the end of the month, the group brought the donations that had started as pocket change over to Hilliard and Wisch.

"It added up so quickly to a very nice donation," Hilliard said. "Every dime is spent to protect our kids, the size of the donation does not matter. We treat them all the same."

Hilliard said that just $1 spent on prevention of sex trafficking amounts to about $38 spent to rescue and rehabilitate exploited children and she believes the task force's message is being heard throughout the community. This is the fourth year of fundraising for the group and the amount they have raised has gone up each year.

"What that says to me is not that we're good fundraisers," Hilliard said. "It says to me that the community recognizes the value of what we are doing and they are becoming very supportive."

Hilliard said checks can be made out to Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force and sent to 2853 Highway 3, Two Harbors, MN 55616 and people with questions can contact her at (218) 834-4639 or suehilliard@lakeconnections.com.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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