BEND, OR—The anti-human tracking organization IN OUR BACKYARD has named Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives at NACS, as its 2020 Hero of the Year.
The Hero of the Year recognizes grassroots heroes whose exemplary efforts positively impact society in the fight against human trafficking.
IN OUR BACKYARD has created several industry-specific initiatives to address human trafficking, including Convenience Stores Against Trafficking (CSAT), which provides the only industry-specific training and materials to equip convenience stores to take a stand against human trafficking.
CSAT began with one Shell station in Bend, Oregon, in 2016 and today includes the participation of 20,000 stores in 48 states, with 280,000 convenience store staff trained to recognize and safely report the signs of human trafficking. In addition, CSAT provides “Freedom Stickers,” which contain the National Human Trafficking Hotline number, to be posted in restroom stalls—often the only place a victim of human trafficking is alone and safe enough to reach out for help.
“A 2016 study from Northeastern University found that one of the most effective ways to increase human trafficking arrests is by posting the National Human Trafficking Hotline in public places. Freedom Stickers in convenience stores reach millions of customers a day and are raising awareness, increasing arrests of traffickers, and providing a pathway to freedom for victims of human trafficking,” said IN OUR BACKYARD Director Cheryl Csiky.
“U.S. convenience stores serve 165 million customers a day in every community, and most of these businesses are open 24/7. Our industry is well equipped to share important messages in stores so that employees and customers can collectively create the equivalent of a neighborhood watch program in their communities. We are proud to work with CSAT on this important issue and grateful for this award recognizing all of the heroes in our industry who serve their communities,” said Lenard.
In 2018, CSAT and NACS announced a partnership to help raise awareness for human trafficking and share their resources with the c-store community to address the problem, joining nine state associations that have also partnered with CSAT. In addition, NACS, CSAT and Ready Training Online (RTO) and have also collaborated on a free online training module, “Community Heroes: C-Stores Stop Human Trafficking.” NACS also has participated in In Our Backyard’s annual outreach event preceding the Super Bowl in which community leaders from the host city participate. Every year, missing children and victims of human trafficking are recovered because of this collaborative effort.
Today, 17 state associations and 184 convenience store companies have partnered with CSAT. Last year, one of those partners, the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores (GACS), earned the ASAE’s Power of A (association) Summit Award, the industry’s highest honor, for its partnership with CSAT and commitment to eradicate human trafficking by training workers and providing tools and resources to association members. Through just the first six months of this partnership, 25% of GACS retail members companies and 19% of member store locations took part in the program.
In addition to CSAT, NACS and the convenience store industry works with other organizations that address trafficking and support youth in need.
In 2017, NACS began an alliance with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign to engage government support and resources to raise public awareness about human trafficking and encourage convenience store involvement. NACS also works with the National Safe Place Network, which works with companies, including convenience stores, to provide access to immediate help and supportive resources for youth in need, many of whom are at risk for human trafficking. Lenard has been a member of the Safe Place Board of Directors since 2015. And, in 2019, NACS joined the three leading convenience store publications, Convenience Store Decisions, Convenience Store News and CSP, to develop articles and outreach that help combat human trafficking during Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January.
“Representing one-third of all brick-and-mortar retail stores in the United States, the country’s 152,000 convenience stores don’t just sell products and services that people enjoy; they make a difference in their communities and help address important national initiative groups at a local level,” said Lenard. “And our survey data shows that 40% of all consumers say that human trafficking is an issue that they would support their local store in combatting. We are proud to share how convenience stores are bettering communities across the country.”