While the aroma of hamburgers and hot dogs filled the air in Capitol Heights, Tiffani Franklin grabbed some free shorts, T-shirts, shoes and toys for her two small children.
Franklin was one of hundreds who turned out Saturday, Aug. 5 for the United Communities Against Poverty’s seventh annual community fair, which provided free health screenings, registration for library cards and spiritual guidance from Kingdom Solutions Ministries of Largo.
Though the food was tempting, of greater importance to Franklin was the estimated $200 she saved.
“This helps me out from spending money on clothes,” she said. “This free stuff can help everybody.”
The event, which was open to all Prince George’s County residents, sought to incorporate a festive atmosphere for youth with a moon bounce, video game truck and custom-made vehicles from the N 2 Deep Motorcycle Club on display.
In addition, the Capitol Area Food Bank provided free produce in an area considered a food desert, or a location with limited or no access to healthy food.
Some of those in attendance such as Franklin reside in a building on the property where the fair took place at Shephard’s Cove, the only homeless shelter for women and children in the county managed by UCAP.
The nonprofit organization’s CEO and President Rasheeda Jamison-Harriott said the shelter has a 100-bed capacity, but has exceeded that number all year. As of Saturday, 112 people are housed there, she said.
“We are mandated to ensure to fight the war on poverty,” she said as a man played a cello for the crowd. “When you think of poverty, look in the mirror. Poverty is a reflection of us individually and what we do within the community. It impacts all of us in various ways.”
The nonprofit organization established in 1963 also provides women with financial literacy classes, rental and utility assistance and workforce training.
Besides providing food, music and health tips, event organizers also targeted teenagers via a “Teen Summit” to discuss human trafficking and social media etiquette.
State Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-District 24) of Landover attended the first half of the discussion, which showed a video of a girl connecting with a man she didn’t know through social media.
“This is not my district, but I will go anywhere and do what I can to help children,” she said. “Parents and children need to know how to handle social media. It can be dangerous.”
Dominque Clark, a county police officer and member of Jacob’s Ladder, a youth organization for teens, told the dozens of parents and teenagers in attendance that she routinely investigates similar cases, including a 16-year-old girl from North Carolina who connected with a man through Tagged, a social media site where people meet.
Although the man paid for her bus ticket north to Maryland, he forced the girl to work and pay off the travel fare.
“She’s trapped, right?” Clark said. “Don’t talk to strangers and don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.”
Clark also warned parents not to drop their children off at malls because people notice when children are alone.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in six of 18,500 runaways became victims of sex trafficking last year.
The Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force has designated the D.C. area as a “hot spot” because of its proximity to three other major metropolitan regions along the Interstate 95 corridor — Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. In Maryland, nearly 400 people survived human trafficking in 2014.
Clark asked the teens what can they do when an adult may not believe they’ve been harmed by a stranger. Yehmayah Callaway, who turned 11 this month, said “Trust in God.”
For her response, she received a $25 gift card to Tanger Outlets at National Harbor.
“[The gift card] sure will help me because she has grown over the summer,” said Yehmayah’s mother, Crystal Johnson, who may move from Shepard’s Cove this month into an apartment in Capitol Heights. “The teen summit and just the community fair itself is just great to have for our community.”