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For some, it's their first Christmastime present

County task force collects, wraps and sends donated presents to then give to victims of the human trafficking.

December 20, 2011|By Lauren Williams
  • Volunteer coordinator Jennifer Juarez organizes a small portion of presents at Vanguard University that are destined for victims of human trafficking, and their families, in Orange County. The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force collected the gifts that, for some, will be their first ever.
Volunteer coordinator Jennifer Juarez organizes a small… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — The room could have passed for Santa's Workshop.

Bright red stockings stuffed with goodies and neatly stacked presents of all sizes, many with bright ribbons, were piled high in the nursing building at Vanguard University. On Monday, some presents were receiving final touches before being sent across Orange County and beyond.

Like all holiday gifts, they were destined for someone special.

Labeled with numbers to protect the recipients, the gifts will be distributed to families where at least one member is a victim of human trafficking.

Victims and their families compiled wish lists, which were then given to donors, along with an age and gender. The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force then collected the presents, which numbered in the hundreds and mostly came from the O.C.-based service groups and churches.

Some survivors asked for a comfy robe, a plush pillow or neon Play-Doh. Others asked for basic necessities, like toiletries.

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For some, this is the first year they will have a present under the tree.

"Some people have never received a gift in their whole entire life," said Linh Tran, the task force administrator.

Getting a present helps the victims, who come from all over the world, build a rapport with the organization.

"I think it's important to help normalize their lives a little bit," said Rasta Bagheri, who works as a human trafficking victim advocate.

Rather than doing case management Monday, Bagheri was moonlighting as Santa's helper, wrapping and organizing presents.

The task force hopes to have the presents distributed to all 76 recipients by Thursday.

According to the group's estimates, about 60% of human trafficking in Orange County is sex related, while the rest is labor related. In the county, the majority of victims come from Asian or Latin American countries, but some hail from Eastern Europe, Africa or the U.S., according to Sandra Morgan, a former administrator for the group and current volunteer.

The task force, which started in 2004, consists of more than 40 agencies, including the Anaheim and Westminster police departments and nonprofits. Since the group's creation, it has provided services to more than 100 families, according to Morgan.

The bond between survivors of human trafficking and members of the task force reaches beyond Christmastime.

For Morgan, the survivors "become extended family."

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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