Fundraising for freedom

Rise in trafficking rates inspires organization, group to take action
Sophomore Mary Kirtley holds her Dressember Foundation button. The buttons are passed down to the new STL Spark executive board members each year and they are encouraged to place them on their backpacks to help raise awareness about human trafficking. My sister, [Class of 2020 alumni] Grace Kirtley, started STL Spark when she was in high school and she would have people carry it on after she graduated, Mary said. Last year I got invited to join the board again with my sister, senior Patty Kirtley, and so weve been working on carrying her legacy a bit. Its become somewhat of a family project.
Sophomore Mary Kirtley holds her Dressember Foundation button. The buttons are passed down to the new STL Spark executive board members each year and they are encouraged to place them on their backpacks to help raise awareness about human trafficking. “My sister, [Class of 2020 alumni] Grace Kirtley, started STL Spark when she was in high school and she would have people carry it on after she graduated,” Mary said. “Last year I got invited to join the board again with my sister, senior Patty Kirtley, and so we’ve been working on carrying her legacy a bit. It’s become somewhat of a family project.”
Samantha Haney
Missouri organizations band together to face growing challenge

Since it was created, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has identified 164,839 victims.

In 2021 alone, there were 16,710 victims.

However, this is not only a national issue, due to the fact that it is becoming increasingly present in Missouri. The World Population Review lists Missouri in the top 5 states for human trafficking rates. Missouri organizations have begun to take steps attempting to decrease this rate and help survivors.

After first appearing in the 90’s, there are now 15 Child Advocacy Centers across the state. The goal of these organizations, according to Missouri KidsFirst, is to improve how relief groups respond to children and their families who have been impacted by human trafficking. 

Missouri KidsFirst and Marillac Mission Fund have partnered with the CAC of Northeast Missouri to develop two child sex trafficking coalitions, the first multijurisdictional groups of their kind in Missouri.

If you see it in the movies, you think it takes place in a more urban area. It’s not like that at all.”

— CAC grant writer Laura Cook

“It’s a multidisciplinary, multijurisdictional group of professionals who [are] involved in human trafficking investigation and prevention,” CAC grant writer Laura Cook said.

The CAC is in charge of coordinating the groups and making sure they have the right combination of professionals. 

“All of these people get together and they say ‘OK, we have a particular problem we need to solve,’” Cook said. “Those people share their resources, people who would maybe never have a chance to sit down together, and find out what they do because they’re just never in that environment.”

Although Cook doesn’t work directly with human trafficking victims, she’s worked with the members of her organization to collect research and prepare training. They work mainly with School Resource Officers and develop training materials to help them learn how to identify victims.

“Many officers have reported that once they learn the sign and the indicators, they’re much more able to reach out to those people and help them get the resources that they need, whether it’s food, shelter or medical attention,” Cook said.

By increasing training, Cook hopes to raise awareness about the prominence of human trafficking because it can happen anywhere. 

National Human Trafficking Hotline Statistics in Missouri

Hotline number: 1-888-3737-888

Statistics from 2021: 1,103 signals received, 240 cases identified and 327 victims identified

To continue the organization, STL Spark’s 2022-23 executive board chose the new 2023-24 executive board including (left to right) junior Ella Nolan, junior Avery Townsend, senior Patty Kirtley, senior Chris Songco, sophomore Mary Kirtley and sophomore Michelle Chen. The board was chosen based on who had participated in the past and were driven. “It was a matter of finding some people that would work together well, what they’re interested in and we chose the people that seemed the most committed,” Patty said. (Samantha Haney)
Local group raises money for global cause

STL Spark, a non-profit group, is teaming up with the Dressember Foundation for the 6th year to combat human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, according to the International Labour Organization, and the Dressember Foundation is a worldwide organization that is working to stop it.

Dressember is a yearly fundraiser for the Dressember Foundation, where people are challenged to wear a dress or tie every day during the entire month of December. Each group can choose how they raise money along with that. Those funds go to the Dressember Foundation, which eventually goes towards stopping human trafficking.

STL Spark is one of the few entities of the Dressember Foundation and is entirely run by Lafayette students.

It’s a topic that’s kind of taboo and the human trafficking industry [is] bigger than anyone here probably knows about.”

— senior Patty Kirtley

The STL Spark executive board consists of seniors Patty Kirtley and Chris Songco, junior Avery Townsend and sophomores Mahi Chechani, Michelle Chen, Mary Kirtley and Ella Nolan. Everyone has an assigned role, whether it be organizing fundraisers, managing social media accounts or selling clothes. STL Spark is not school-sponsored and fundraising happens mostly outside of school. While dates have not been set, a MOD fundraiser and a Saver’s fundraiser are being planned for this year.

Currently, they are stocking the STL Spark thrifting Instagram page. Townsend’s job includes buying thrifted clothes for the page and then reselling them for a higher price. The difference between the sold amount and the thrifted amount then gets donated to the Dressember Foundation.

“It’s another way that we can support the cause and it’s a fun thing to do. It’s always great to support second-hand shops and prevent fast fashion,” she said.

In addition to their fundraisers and thrift store, STL Spark raises money through their merch store. The items in their store are t-shirts, hoodies and stickers.

They hosted their first meeting on Nov. 20 to introduce the goals of STL Spark as an organization and offer an opportunity for students interested in participating to learn about the Dressember Foundation.

On Dec. 2, they will have a booth at the Marketplace Craft Fair where they’ll sell an assortment of items and donate the profits. Along with their AcLab meeting on Nov. 20, the executive board hosted a second meeting Nov. 26 to make bracelets to sell.

Since there are Undefined members on the STL Spark executive board, they will team up with Undefined to help raise money on Dec. 8 for Dressember. Undefined has held Dressember shows in the past as well, and performers dress up to support the cause.

“Our money goes to Dressember because we can’t directly impact what’s happening with human trafficking. They fund missions to support people that have been in those situations or to pull people out. We can’t do anything like that,” Patty said.

STL Spark started in 2018 by Class of 2020 alumni Grace Kirtley but lost popularity in 2020. Last year it made its return, and Patty hopes that it will continue to grow. 

“Obviously it’s been on my radar. I actually didn’t do it until last year because middle school me was like, ‘I’m not going to wear dresses for a month,’ I didn’t understand,” Patty said.

The best way for anyone to be involved with the group at any time is to follow STL Spark’s Instagram and TikTok.

“It’s important to be aware and recognize what’s going on and to be a part of something to help out. It feels good,” Patty said.

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Abby Scott
Abby Scott, News Editor
Grade: Junior Pronouns: She/Her Years on Staff: 1 Hobbies and Interests: color guard, winter guard, listening to music, spending time with friends Favorite Quote: "Let's go golfing!" - DJ Khaled Favorite Hot Take: Pineapple on pizza is delicious. Fun Fact: I can touch my tongue to my nose.
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Samantha Haney, Opinions Editor / Legend Social Media Manager
Grade: Senior Pronouns: She/Her Years on Staff: 4 Hobbies and Interests: theater, photography, podcasting Favorite Quote: “But you gotta be somebody sometime,” - Ordinaryish People, AJR Favorite Hot Take: There’s no ‘right’ way to eat an Oreo. Fun Fact: I’m a published illustrator for a children's book series.
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