Reading newsletters put out by Sold No More, a Tucson organization that helps victims of sex trafficking, combined with her own, personal experience put Cynthia Magallanes in fight mode.
The stay-at-home mother of two young children, a former sex-abuse victim herself, knew she had to do something. “You can’t unread those stories,” she said. “I would read the stories and cry ... what if that was my baby?”
For her one-income family, there was not much extra money to donate. But she knew there must be something she could do to help, and she wanted it to be bigger than the $10 she could afford to give.
She prayed and thought about it every day, searching for a way to make a difference.
Magallanes always loved weddings, and wanted to have a wedding business of some sort. And then it hit her. A beloved, used dress hanging in the closet isn’t any less valuable or beautiful, she said. “It just needs somebody to redeem it. ... Same thing with these girls.”
The idea of Free Ever After, a nonprofit bridal resale boutique, was born, along with its slogan: “A used dress for a new bride. A new life for a renewed girl.”
The Tucson store would sell used dresses to budget-minded women and donate the money to organizations that help victims, starting with Sold No More.
Magallanes approached Jerry Peyton, executive director of Sold No More (formerly called Streetlight Tucson) and told him her idea. Peyton loved it. “It’s certainly a creative way to raise funds and awareness,” he said.
The two created a partnership, and Free Ever After launched its online campaign seeking dress donations on Aug. 12.
“She has such a great heart,” Peyton said of Magallanes.
When she asked if there was a way for her business to be a program of Sold No More, so it could fall under its corporate umbrella, the board of directors wholeheartedly agreed.
“They will operate under us until they are able to establish themselves as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation,” Peyton said. “Or unless we agree that it is to all of our advantage for them to stay on as a program of Sold No More.”
Peyton allows Magallanes to use the Sold No More office as a dress-donation site.
So far, donors have provided 55 formal dresses and 20 wedding dresses, which are stored in Magallanes’ home.
Free Ever After doesn’t have a storefront yet, due to lack of money, but plans to launch its online store in mid- to late January.
Each board member of Free Ever After contributes out-of-pocket to pay for printing promotional materials, the website and Internet fees.
Magallanes’ husband handles the behind-the-scenes work such as posting on Facebook and maintaining the website. “He’s so passionate about it, too,” she said.
Sandy Skaja, a Tucson mom, had bought a brand new wedding dress for her daughter. But her daughter decided to elope.
Originally, Skaja was trying to sell the dress through a Facebook resale group. When nobody bought it, she tasked her daughter with finding a good organization to donate to.
Then her daughter told her about Free Ever After, and Skaja knew it was where she wanted the dress to be.
Skaja said she was “surprised and dismayed” to find out the sex trafficking industry is still so widespread.
“When I found out this organization uses the dresses to donate to young girls who have been victimized and rescued, I could not think of a better way for the dress to be used,” Skaja said. “It truly made me incredibly happy to be able to pass it along for such a great cause.”
Each dress will be named after a survivor and have that person’s story attached, to give the boutique’s customers an idea of what their money is doing to help the exploited women. “Buying a dress from us is gonna give another girl a chance to be a survivor and to be free,” Magallanes said. “And to have a wedding of her own one day.”
Proceeds from the dresses will go to Delia’s Fund, which was set up by Sold No More to provide services such as therapy, medical care and housing to victims.
Delia’s Fund was named after Delia Gonzalez, who wanted to help after hearing Peyton speak. She was sick with aplastic anemia and was in the hospital. Peyton said she made a huge poster about sex trafficking that asked for donations. It was displayed at an equestrian event and helped bring $10,000 to Sold No More.
“God put it in her heart to help these girls,” said Marta Gonzalez, Delia’s mother.
Peyton couldn’t think of a better name for the victims’ services fund.
“This young woman wanted her life to have impact,” Peyton said. “It has. And is continuing to.”
Gonzalez died on Jan. 9 at the age of 19, weeks after the fundraising event.
Magallanes also wants to create mentoring programs and workshops to prevent at-risk girls from becoming victims.
She said the workshops will focus on self-esteem and cultivating the girls’ natural gifts and talents. She wants to partner with successful local women to mentor the girls.
“I’m tired of celebrities mentoring our girls,” Magallanes said. “We need to change our culture of 12-year-olds thinking they need to be sexy.”
Magallanes’ plans fit right in with Sold No More’s programs. Part of Peyton’s mission is to create awareness. In the last two and a half years, he has spoken to more than 10,000 people at schools, churches, women’s groups and professional organizations.
He also teaches education presentations at schools, teaching youths how they might be targeted. Peyton believes awareness creates prevention.
“We live in a culture where a woman’s value is on their body,” Magallanes said. “And that’s not all we are. We have amazing capacities to lead and to think. I don’t want my daughter to grow up that way. She’s 3.
“I have a lot of work to do.”