More than 100 demonstrators gathered outside Santa Maria City Hall on Thursday during Child Trafficking Awareness Day, recognized annually across the country to highlight the issue of modern-day slavery.
Families with both children and adults joined together at 5 p.m. near the intersection of South Broadway and Cook Street, eliciting honks of support from passing cars while holding signs with messages that read, "Children are not for sale" and "salvamos a los niños."
The demonstration was organized by local residents involved with Operation Underground Railroad, a national nonprofit focused on the coordinated rescue and recovery of trafficked children around the world.
Righetti High School teacher Christie Ortiz, who has worked with the nonprofit, decided to organize the Santa Maria rally on Child Trafficking Awareness Day after seeing that the nearest rally was in Fresno.
She started sending out emails last week to gauge local interest and was pleased by the turnout of several local families who gathered Thursday.
"This is something everyone can get around, fighting to end trafficking," Ortiz said. "I think awareness is really important because some people think it just happens overseas, but it happens in our city, our county and our state."
Attendees said they were grateful to find a local demonstration against child trafficking they could participate in.
Karen and Jim Tringham drove down from Arroyo Grande to attend, after their daughter in Texas told them that demonstrations were taking place across the country to raise awareness.
"I think it's a lot more prevalent than we would realize. Something like this makes people aware of it," Karen said, gesturing to the demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk.
A total of 1,507 human trafficking cases were reported in California in 2019, making it the state with the highest trafficking rates in the country, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
To learn more about Operation Underground Railroad, visit https://ourrescue.org/
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