Filling cracks, spreading the word on human trafficking

Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher and Seton Hill University freshman Michelle Gau of Murrysville fill cracks in the sidewalk around the county courthouse as part of the Red Sand Project.

The Red Sand Project, a volunteer effort where red sand fills the cracks of sidewalks in various locations around Westmoreland County to bring attention to human trafficking victims, is coming to Latrobe.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, volunteers will fill the cracks between sidewalks at the Excela Health Latrobe Hospital as part of the Westmoreland County Human Trafficking Task Force project, which is going on its fourth year in Westmoreland County.

The Red Sand Project is an art installation, created by artist Molly Gochman, that seeks to raise awareness about human trafficking by asking volunteers across the world to place red sand in the cracks of sidewalks. The grains of sand represent the millions of victims of human trafficking that slip through the “cracks” of our society, and go unnoticed.

Pennsylvania had 271 cases of human trafficking reported in 2019, according to the most recent available statistics provided by the National Human Trafficking Hotline. However, it is believed that many cases of human trafficking that go unreported each year.

Each year, the Red Sand Project, which began with just one installation in front of the Westmoreland County Courthouse, has grown. This year, red sand will appear not only at the courthouse, but at all three Excela Hospitals — Westmoreland, Frick and Latrobe, at Twin Lakes and St. Clair parks, in Delmont at the public library and in New Kensington at the police station.

Red Sand volunteers are working with a number of community partners, like the Blackburn Center. Seton Hill University is also participating by having a display at the campus and having Blackburn participate in a talk on Sept. 22 during Criminal Justice Week, focusing on human trafficking. Students from the university also volunteered to help spread the red sand in cracks around the county.

Project volunteers would like the public to become involved as well by encouraging people to photograph themselves at a Red Sand installation and post it on social media with the hashtag #RedSandProjectGbg to help draw additional attention.

The project is always looking for volunteers, so anyone interested in helping is asked to contact Shelbi at the Blackburn Center by calling 724-837-9540, ext. 171. Likewise, if any business or community group is interested in displaying awareness materials, contact the Blackburn Center.

For more information on the project, visit redsandproject.org or blackburncenter.org.

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