A local charity hosted a fundraiser marathon Saturday, Sept. 26 to help bring awareness to children enslaved in the sex-trade.
Operation Underground Railroad helps liberate children victimized in human trafficking. O.U.R. undercover teams, consisting of former CIA and Special Ops personnel, go all over the world to help local law enforcement rescue enslaved children and obliterate criminal activity.
The fundraiser was held at Smith Park Saturday at 8:30 a.m. where Rexburg residents participated in a 5K run or 10K. The route began at Smith Park, going east on East First North, through the Mill Hollow Community and on to Barney Dairy Road.
Among the participants was Brenda Peterson (name changed upon request), a BYU-Idaho student who said she was a victim of human trafficking as a child.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said. “It happened to me, and it’s happening to millions of others.”
The student said she could not thank this organization enough for the good work they were doing and knew it would help many like her.
Alyssa Leavitt, a junior studying horticulture, said she decided she wanted to run in this event to help bring awareness to the sex-trafficking.
“I recently found out about human trafficking not too long ago,” Leavitt said. “I never realized what a big deal it was. People don’t know it’s happening, or if they do, they don’t think it’s happening here, or that it’s real.”
Upon completion of the marathon, Miss Rexburg Outstanding Teen, Annie Barton, greeted the finishers and placed a gold medal around their necks.
“When I was trying to pick a platform for the pageant, I went over to my neighbor’s house who is an O.U.R. volunteer,” Bartain said in an interview with ourrescue.org. “She showed me videos and talked to me about O.U.R. It was an easy choice to make.”
In over a year, O.U.R helped rescue over 300 children and has arrested numerous traffickers, according to active.com .
Sarah Rasmussen, a junior studying family history research, said she felt running in this event would allow her to play a small part in helping the victims of the sex-trade industry.
“I think more awareness needs to be brought to the issue of human trafficking,” Rasmussen said. “I think this event will do just that. Our shirts have a lot of sponsors on them of really big, well-known companies, which definitely helps bring attention to this event.”
Directors and volunteer staff of O.U.R., along with family and friends of the participants, cheered along the side of the road as the runners crossed the finish line. Following the marathon was a family festival, and all proceed were donated to O.U.R.
First-time O.U.R. volunteer Matt Foster, from Idaho Falls, said as soon as he found out about the organization, he immediately wanted to see how he could help.
“I was struck by this organization,” Foster said. “I was also shocked that the human-trafficking system, i.e. the child-sex trade, still exists. I was appalled by it.”
Foster and his wife Monica plan to host another community O.U.R. fundraiser Oct. 24. The proceeds will go towards purchasing jump ropes for children in the sex-trade industry.
“We have a goal of raising enough money to buy over 1,200 jump ropes for the children trapped in the sex trade,” Foster said. “We want to teach them a skill that they can learn to do in six square feet of flat bare ground. It’s definitely a good cause. Helping in any way you can, no matter how menial you think it might be, will really make a huge difference in the lives of the victims of sex slavery who deserve justice.”