WATSONTOWN — Three local women are taking their shoes off, and are encouraging others to do the same, in an effort to educate the community on the prevalence of human trafficking.
Vickie Eberhart, Dianne Garcia and Julie Savage are coordinating The Barefoot Mile, to be held Sunday, Nov. 3, at Revival Tabernacle, 960 Susquehanna Trail, Watsontown. Registration begins at 3 p.m., with the walk starting at 4.
Proceeds from the walk will be given to Joy International, a Colorado-based organization. Eberhart said the organization was founded about 10 years ago by Jeff Brodsky.
The organization is devoted to “the rescue, restoration, reintegration and prevention of children forced into the child sex trade.”
Eberhart said Joy International donates 100% of its proceeds to organizations both in the United States and around the world which helps women and children who are victims of human trafficking.
Eberhart first learned of the organization when Brodsky appeared on a television program she was watching.
“When I saw him come on stage in his bare feet, I was really intrigued,” she said.
According to Eberhart, Brodsky went barefoot for one year after visiting Cambodia and seeing children who were susceptible to trafficking living in a trash-collection area, with no shoes on.
After going without shoes for one year in order to raise awareness to the plight of the children, Eberhart said Brodsky returned to Cambodia.
However, after the visit he felt as if he must continue to go barefoot.
Eberhart and Garcia are both nurses, while Savage works as a trauma therapist.
While none of the women have knowingly come in contact with trafficking victims, they have encountered individuals who have faced similar situations.
“I do work with rape victims and adolescents,” Savage said.
With Eberhart noting that Route 15 has been known to be used by traffickers, Savage said many people don’t realize that the epidemic occurs so close to home.
“It is in this area,” Savage said. “(People think) it’s far off, but it’s not.”
Eberhart has knowledge of several local entities which help human trafficking victims.
“There’s four shelters in the area that I’ve heard they take rescued children,” she said. “You don’t just take a rescued child and put them anywhere.”
Eberhart noted that anyone rescued from trafficking needs therapy and other measures of intervention in order to help them get their lives on track.
Those who sign up to participate in The Barefoot Mile will be asked to collect donations for the cause.
The day of the event, participants will walk one mile without their shoes on. The walk will be held outside if weather permits.
In the event of inclement weather, the walk will be moved to inside the Revival Tabernacle gymnasium.
“We are hoping to get 100 walkers, hoping to raise $10,000,” Eberhart said. “It’s not just about raising money. It’s about the awareness of knowing these things are going on.”
Prior to becoming involved with the event, Garcia didn’t realize just how deep the problem is in the United States.
“I have those blinders off and my eyes wide open,” she said.
Savage said it’s also important for people to recognize the signs of a child who may be the victim of human trafficking.
Among the signs, Savage said, are children who are overly compliant with instructions given by adults they are with.
“They have a flat expression, they won’t be showing a lot of emotion,” she added.
In addition to Eberhart, Garcia and Savage, Eberhart said other volunteers are helping to organize the event or will be helping the day of it.
Anyone interested in participating in The Barefoot Mile, or in contributing to the effort, should contact Eberhart at 570-716-4616.
For more information on Joy International, visit www.joy.org.