More than a dress

STL Spark continues to raise awareness for human trafficking through Festive Fridays, additional advocacy methods


Morgan Vehige

STL Spark encourages its members and those outside of the organization to participate in Festive Fridays. Participants are asked to wear a dress or a tie in order to help raise awareness for human trafficking in the month of December, supporting their saying, “It’s more than a dress.”

Molly Brim and Morgan Vehige

“The statistics of [human trafficking] are so real. I’ve never realized how prominent of an issue it was in the St. Louis area. As you learn more about it, you realize that it’s all around you and it’s not just in places that are far away like you often think about it. There’s a lot more to it than just plain sex trafficking,” junior Riya Parikh said.

Parikh is the advocacy chair for STL Spark, an organization made to raise funds and awareness for human trafficking. Since her freshman year, she has admired the group and participated in the Fancy Fridays, where members of the organization and anyone else are asked to wear dresses or ties in order to raise awareness.

“My older sister was really good friends with the people that started it so when I was a freshman I was like ‘this is really interesting,’” Parikh said. “I wore a dress on the Festive Fridays, pretty much every Friday. Last year I also bought stuff from the STL Spark thrift store, and I supported it as [much as I could].”

The group was founded by Lafayette Class of 2020 graduates Chloe Baker, Grace Kirtley and Shannon Worley and Class of 2021 graduates Sophie Arceneaux and Lily Gregory. For Baker, she believes that Lafayette was a great starting point for the organization because it sparked conversations within the community. 

“Lafayette was just a great starting point for people who noticed when you wore a dress every day because it’s small enough that you see people every day,” Baker said. “It was just a perfect little bridge to ask questions and be able to talk about human trafficking and the issue that it presents to the United States. That opened so many doors into the community and just our ability to share just got bigger and bigger.”

Dressember is a worldwide organization that focuses on putting an end to human trafficking with an emphasis on the program in the months of December and January. STL Spark gains some of their ideas for advocacy, like dressing up, in order to better raise awareness. 

Last year, the STL Spark founders handed down the reins to a new executive board, and right after, announced that in the 2020-2021 effort, the organization raised $8,044.10. This was more than the goal of $6,500 that was needed in order to fund a rescue mission for a human trafficking victim. 

Despite leaving the group in new ownership, Worley is excited to see what the new team comes up with, and looks forward to participating in her own ways to raise awareness at her college, University of Missouri-Columbia. 

“Last year since we got sent home, we were able to continue on with STL Spark pretty easily. We realized that it’s going to be different because we are all going to be away at college. It would be harder to lead the team,” Worley said. “We passed down our positions which is really exciting. I’m excited to see, with our new team being spread out, how that’s going to raise awareness and spread for this year. I’m still planning on doing the Festive Fridays. I am also a part of the International Justice Admission Club here which is one of the organizations that Dressember fundraises for.”

For the new team, their ultimate goal for this year is $5,000. However, Parikh is hoping to match the goals set in years past, and gain enough to fund a rescue mission. They’re planning more fundraisers, like Change for Change in January where they collect spare change from neighborhoods, and they look to partner with more local businesses like in years past. 

However, monetary donations aren’t the only way STL Spark hopes to support the cause. Parikh and her team are adamant on educating people in the Lafayette community about the issue of human trafficking. 

“I feel like this issue isn’t brought up as much as it should be. I think that through STL Spark we can raise awareness through our school and more around the West County area,” Parikh said. “Just support the cause enough to raise awareness about it. Ask questions, educate other people about human trafficking, things like that.”

For senior Grace Raymond, Festive Fridays introduced her to STL Spark and allowed her to educate herself on the issue of human trafficking. This year, as the Communication Chair for the executive board, she plans on continuing the tradition of Festive Fridays.

“I participated in Dressember and that was really fun because I love style. Now I help run STL Spark so it’s kind of awesome. I love that aspect of Dressember because it’s like our slogan, ‘more than a dress’. One of my favorite things is when fashion brings people together,” Raymond said. 

Parikh and Raymond encourage those interested in joining STL Spark to follow the organization’s GroupMe or their Instagram, @STLSpark. Parikh also encourages everyone to be aware of the issue not only to inform other people but to make safe decisions for themselves even after the fundraising period has ended. 

“With Dressember, we sort of continue throughout January with the fundraisers. Even after that, I think it’s important to stay educated about the topic and to educate other people,” Parikh said. “Look throughout the area and be aware of the signs of human trafficking, I think that’s a big part of Dressember, learning how to find it near you. It’s important to keep an eye out because you never know what can happen near you.”

In order to join or learn more about STL Spark, follow the team’s Instagram page, @STLSpark.