Sometimes, one simple sentence can spark action. That’s what happened to Meaghan Coneybeare a couple months ago, when she heard a presentation by the victim aftercare organization Walk With Me. One moment she was sitting in a room, listening and learning, and the next she was delivering hundreds of pyjamas to trafficking survivors and local organizations. Here’s what Meaghan had to say about the experience.
What gave you the idea of pyjamas? Why did that resonate with you?
While at a screening of Red Light Green Light back in November, a speaker from the organization Walk With Me talked about their safe house and the needs they had. One of the items she listed off was pyjamas. Right away I could not stop thinking about these pyjamas. Being close to Christmas I knew that pyjamas would be an easily accessible and affordable purchase for donors.
I also knew what it felt like to have a pair of warm pyjamas after leaving an unstable & unsafe environment with just the clothes on my back. When I was 15 I went into foster care. I had just run from my home after a very bad altercation with my alcoholic mother. I grew up in a very unstable and at many times unsafe environment. My mother took a lot of her anger and frustration out on me physically, emotionally and verbally. That night, a couple days before my 15th birthday, was the last straw for me. I ran out of the house on a cold February night knowing in that moment I was going to be free of that life. I soon entered into foster care.
On the first night, still with the same clothes on my back that I had left with, my foster parents got me some new, warm items to wear, one of these being a pair of pyjamas. I still remember the feeling of putting it on and feeling that comfort, safety and even a glimmer of hope. I wanted to be able to give those same feelings to these women who were being rescued from human trafficking.
How many have you collected?
To date, I have collected over 450 pyjamas! When I put the post onto social media, I really just thought a couple people might get into it and I’d end up with 5 or 6. Then within a couple hours so many people shared my message and wanted to give. I then thought 100 pairs would be a lofty goal but reachable. To have over 4x that is just so inspiring and shows just how generous our community is.
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve come across as a result of this initiative?
There have been so many surprising moments – how so many people came together to support this, how people showed up at the pyjama party to donate and learn more, how many people didn’t know [human trafficking] was happening in our own region. And the fact I could even pull this off! I myself have learned so much more about human trafficking by doing this.
There’s so much more involved than just getting these victims away from traffickers. We also need to ensure there are supports in place for them to feel safe, to start a new life and to feel confident and hope again within themselves. That they can feel safe in coming forward because that will help lead to more convictions. I’ve also learned that I can’t stop talking about it. I’ve been given an opportunity where people have listened to my story and are interested in learning more, and I want to continue to use my voice for this cause.
At the pyjama party back in December, I was told by a Waterloo Regional Police Services officer that a group of students from KCI (Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School) wanted to come by and drop off some pyjamas they had collected. They showed up with 45 pairs! I soon learned that the officer who is hired by the school volunteered some of his hours so that they could use that money to purchase pyjamas. It was such a wonderful way to see them all come together on this project.
I also went to a woman’s surprise birthday party that her daughters put together. Their mom was very touched by the articles she had read about my initiative and her daughters thought that instead of gifts for their mom, they’d ask guests to bring pj’s. I also attended the party and surprised her as well. They generously donated 25 pairs of pjs. It’s these amazing stories of hearing how groups of people have been touched by this campaign and work together to make a difference that just inspires me!
What would you tell someone who is wanting to fight trafficking but has no idea where to start?
Many people come up to me asking how they can help, they’ve given pj’s now what more can they do. I love that attitude! I tell them to keep talking about it. I want the buzz around this issue to continue. I want it to get louder, so loud that you can’t ignore it. The more we all become aware the more we can come together to end it. And the more those still being trafficked will feel that there is support for them & people are listening.
I do work with youth at risk where I co-facilitate a group that meets twice a month to go out and volunteer in our community. I’m also doing more work in the area of raising awareness of human trafficking and have partnered up with Timea Nagy of Timea’s Cause to do more in this area. In my down time I catch up on all the books I started reading, until the next project comes along that takes me away for awhile.
By the end of January, Meaghan had collected 500 sets of pyjamas, and joyfully delivered them to various victim service organizations. All because one sentence, spoken at an awareness event, sparked an idea that will now bring comfort to hundreds.