Columbia Center Rotary fights human trafficking with camping event

KENNEWICK, Wash. — For the second consecutive year, representatives of the Columbia Center Rotary are camping out to spread awareness about human trafficking.

On Saturday, January 30 starting at 5:00 p.m., 36 people across 20 sites will camp out for the night to Shine A Light Through The Night.’ By doing so, they hope to spread awareness and raise money for those impacted by human trafficking.

As a spokesperson for the Columbia Center Rotary, Debbie Robertson has seen the impact that fundraisers like this one can have. A year ago, the event raised $42,000 to support those in need while teaching community members about a very serious issue that doesn’t get talked about very often. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced campers to take a different approach.

“We’re not letting COVID stop us, so instead of all gathering in one place for this event with multiple bonfires and chili feeds and stuff, everyone’s doing it at home in their own property,” Robertson said.

The picture gallery from last year’s event shows the joy and sense of community that comes from this kind of event. Coming together in-person to raise awareness is the type of communal event that sparks interest from non-members throughout the Tri-Cities. Hundreds of people stopped by to donate and partake in the event in-person a year ago.

This year, the Columbia Center Rotary is forced to find alternative ways to connect with potential donors. To create a communal experience, a live stream will run throughout the event where people can learn, chat and see the campers’ commitment to this issue despite the circumstances.

Like the Columbia Center Rotary, human trafficking isn’t taking a break due to COVID. Instead, human traffickers are finding alternative routes to take advantage of vulnerable individuals. The most commonly known form of trafficking is sex trafficking.

“Because of the isolation caused by COVID, we have found that the trafficking problem has increased significantly online,” Robertson said. “We had an additional 76 cases of online trafficking issues this year, and so we’re trying to remain vigilant and prevent that from happening.”

Normal social interaction also played a big part in spreading awareness. Rotary members normally interact with their friends, acquaintances, co-workers and other community members in-person during a non-COVID landscape. Robertson says that was a great way to raise funds in previous years.

Given the current circumstances of the world, it’s harder to spread awareness about the event outside of social media. Robertson said that people were donating to the cause for 60 days following last year’s event. Much of that credit went to the people of the Tri-Cities.

“I think this community is very aware of protecting the vulnerable and that’s how this trafficking thing ends up happening,” Robertson said. “If they’re not aware of the possibilities, then they don’t know how vulnerable they are; and they don’t take the steps to protect themselves — They don’t speak up about what’s happening because sometimes they don’t even understand it.”

With many victims of human trafficking being transported north to Canada, many victims are brought through the Tri-Cities en route to their next destination. Robertson and the rest of the Columbia Center Rotary hope to inspire change.

“It is here. We are diligently working on eliminating [human trafficking] here,” Robertson said. “COVID, unfortunately, makes it a little easier for it to happen and slightly more difficult to get the word out, but we’re trying to meet that challenge by having this event and doing it safely.”

Statistics are provided to the CCR by the Support Advocacy and Resource Center (SARC) based in Richland.

To donate via check, you can mail a check Payable to CCR Charity as follows: Jay Wildgen, 720 S Vermont St., Kennewick, WA 99336. You can learn more about the event by visiting the Facebook event page here or by visiting the CCR website.

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