An event will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Mount Airy on Wednesday to benefit survivors of abuse, prostitution, trafficking and addiction and to educate the public about those issues.
Representatives from Thistle Farms, a non-profit organization based in Nashville, Tennessee, will be in the church’s parish hall at 472 N. Main St., Mount Airy, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., speaking about their mission and selling products.
A short prayer service where survivors of such abuse will give testimony will be held in the church’s sanctuary at 5:30 p.m.
“Thistle Farms includes a residential community which provides housing, medical care, therapy, vocational training for two years for women — and it’s offered free to residents,” Spokesperson Marlei Olsen, stated in an email.
“We provide jobs through our social enterprises: our home and body line, Thistle Stop Cafe, an artisan studio and Thistle Farms Global.”
Brenda Nichol Goings, a Trinity member, said the church became interested in hosting the event after a book club read “Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life,” written by Thistle Farms founder Rev. Becca Stevens.
“Her premise is that love is the biggest force for change in the world today,” Goings said.
“The thing that inspired us was her daily commitment to the mission of doing something to change the culture.”
Goings said the book club, which consists of about 15 members who meet regularly, is based around the Bible and social issues.
“We’re trying to broaden our understanding of 21st century issues in and out of the church,” she said. Thistle Farms offered a tangible call to action.
“So many times with something this big you think you can’t do anything about it,” Goings said. “Thistle Farms is making a big change, is really doing something. We want this event to be outreach for our church. We’d love for people to come and know you can do something about sex trafficking in the United States.”
Stevens began the organization as a residential program named “Magdalene” in 1997 and expanded in 2001 to include social enterprise program for survivors and education and outreach for the public.
According to information provided by the organization, Thistle Farms provides referral and case management services for 700 women annually, including about 150 Thistle Farms graduates, 30 full time residents and six inmates participating in “Magdalene on the Inside.”
Employees of Thistle Farms make a natural home and body care line of products that are sold online and distributed in 450 stores, including some Whole Foods Markets and Kroger stores.
The representatives who will be in Mount Airy on Wednesday are graduates of the program and are now paid Thistle Farms employees.
“Women who participate in events learn a lot of marketable skills,” Olsen said. “Employees function quite independently at events, and learn how to inventory, sell products, speak on behalf of the organization and handle the reporting and finances for the event. Women are paid hourly wages just as if they were working in any other part of the company. If it is out-of-town (such as this one), they receive per diems.”
Olsen explained that proceeds from product sales go directly back into the organization, noting that a set-up using independent contractors would not provide appropriate financial security and stability for residents and graduates.
“Our focus is always to provide jobs and income for the next woman coming off the streets,” she said.
Residents working at Thistle Farms earn minimum wage and graduates start at $10 per hour.
Goings, who grew up in Nashville and was familiar with the role of Stevens as a “frontline speaker” within the Episcopal Church, said she had ordered some products online and was well satisfied with items such as candles, tea and bags created in the artisan studio.
She was especially a fan of the insect repellent.
“It’s all natural – it works,” she said. “I have it on my front porch.”
The Mount Airy resident also recently visited Thistle Farms headquarters in Nashville.
“It’s such a big issue, but you see somebody doing something and it’s encouraging,” she said, hoping to bring a dose of that to Mount Airy. “The goal would be to raise awareness with the community, with what is not a solution, but is a hands on effort to improve the lives of all these women who have had such a rough life.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.