First Free Church in Onalaska’s Set Me Free Shop will host its Christmas open house Saturday, Dec. 9, from 5 to 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 10, from 8 a.m., to 12:30 p.m.
Located in the lobby of the church at 123 Mason St., in Onalaska, the store sells merchandise from around the world. Survivors of human trafficking make most of the creations and proceeds go back to the anti-trafficking organizations.
Newly appointed General Manager and former San Diego native Asha Bianca is the author of four books including Sex Esteem, a book for young women that compares secular and Biblical views of sexuality. Bianca is a veteran of mission trips to Columbia, Mexico and Haiti.
With poverty as the major contributor to human trafficking, Bianca sees the Set Me Free Shop on the cutting edge toward finding a solution to the problem. Impoverished families of third world countries often unknowingly sell their children to traffickers to support the rest of the family, Bianca says. The Set Me Free Shop offers an alternative.
“I’m very passionate that we provide options for individuals, that there is another way,” Bianca said.
To that end, she and Barb Johnson of Onalaska will make the rounds of Southeast Asian safehouses early next year, purchasing more merchandise that allows survivors to support themselves and in some cases their families as well.
“If we buy $3000 worth of merchandise, that will sustain a community of women for a long time,” said Johnson. Johnson cited a recent communication indicating that five women and seven children were recently rescued from a notorious red-light district. The women now support themselves through creating merchandise at a safe-house.
First Free Church currently supports three safe-houses that provide room, board and jobs for 90 women. A fourth house is currently under construction.
As one of the fastest growing crimes in the world Human trafficking generates an estimated $150 billion in revenue, ensnaring 45 million slaves, mostly women and children.
But Bianca also sets her sights on the local problems, partnering with the La Crosse Task Force Against Human Trafficking and Fierce Freedom of Eau Claire to help educate the community and interface with law enforcement. The store is normally open 30 minutes before and after each service. Alternate times can be made by appointment through the church office.