By Eric Heinz

For its second consecutive year, the i-5 Freedom Network hosted its Be a Big Cheese event, which raises funds for the organization’s classes on combating human trafficking.

More than 120 people registered for the event, which was hosted at The Cellar, and auction items were sold for as much as $2,500 each—the event raised a total of $15,000.

Speakers included Geri Cerkovnik, the CEO of Carnegie OC; Jaimee January, a survivor support specialist; and Lt. Mike Peters, the San Clemente Chief of Police.

Human trafficking has been detected frequently along Interstate 5 in Orange County and many other parts of California, as it provides traffickers with a wide berth of transportation.

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“Probably our biggest accomplishment in the last year is how we expanded our audience,” Brenda Wells, the executive director of i-5 Freedom Network, said. “We started in hospitality, but we found that a lot of other audiences were interested in this; we’ve done (training to identify human trafficking) with law enforcement, women’s groups, the Outlets. I think more and more people are learning about it.”

Wells said by putting more momentum behind awareness of human trafficking, more people are becoming motivated to get involved. She said the next planned event is the Walk for Freedom in July. Wells said they’re also trying to get more legislation passed at the state level related to the prevention of human trafficking. She said i-5 Freedom Network had a few bills introduced that didn’t pass in the last session.

Wells said the organization is going to start working with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the near future to help train newcomers on detecting possible human trafficking operations. For more information, visit www.i5freedomorg.publishpath.com.

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