Fighting Human Trafficking, One Cup of Coffee at a Time
Photos courtesy of A 2nd Cup.


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Fighting Human Trafficking, One Cup of Coffee at a Time

Erica Raggett opened A 2nd Cup, a nonprofit cafe in Houston, to raise awareness about human trafficking while donating all of its profits to services and organizations that help victims.

Erica Raggett remembers the moment she first found out about the horrors of human trafficking: She was sitting in mass during the Christmas season, when her local Houston church opened its doors to nonprofits as part of a lesson on giving to those less fortunate.

A teacher at the time, Raggett listened in disbelief as the group discussed the problem. She calls that day in church her "outrage moment."


Inside A 2nd Cup. All photos by the author.

"I was just horrified," she said. "I didn't feel like I could walk away from that and just continue on living the life I led."

Indeed, Raggett says there's a lot to be outraged about. In 2015 alone, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) fielded more than 11,000 calls. There were roughly 2,800 human trafficking cases reported as of June 30, the vast majority of which were female victims of sex trafficking, according to the group.

Texas itself accounted for almost 10 percent of that total. While the NHTRC doesn't track individual cities, experts generally agree that Houston is a hub for such activity due to its proximity to the border with Mexico, its interstate accessibility, and its status as a major port city.


For Raggett, the shock of those statistics spurred action, and she immediately began to attend meetings with local anti-trafficking groups like United Against Human Trafficking and Free the Captives, a religious nonprofit that provides mentoring, tutoring, and other recovery services to victims.

In the five years that have passed since her outrage moment, Raggett left her teaching job and started a new life operating A 2nd Cup, a nonprofit cafe designed to raise awareness about human trafficking while donating all of its profits to services and organizations that help victims.

"There's just all of these things where, if someone has been trafficked since the age of 12, they would have no idea how to do," Raggett said. "Those are the kinds of things we want to provide."


The idea for A 2nd Cup started as no more than a pipe dream. While Raggett says she always wanted to open her own cafe, the idea was never a serious one. The name itself was a joke about a friend's coffee habit: After her morning cup of coffee, she could come to Raggett's shop for a "second cup."

"From when I was little, I felt like whatever I did as a job I wanted to improve the world," Raggett said. "The idea of opening a shop never really jibed with my desire to, you know, make the world a better place."


After Raggett learned more about trafficking and working as a volunteer, the idea of a cafe started to become more realistic: She could open up shop while also using all of the profits to help victims in need.

But to do that, she first needed to actually learn about coffee.

"Never having done that before, or even worked in the restaurant industry at all, there was a lot to learn," she said. Searching for someone to help jumpstart the idea, she met Matt Toomey, owner of local Houston roastery Boomtown Coffee. "He kind of became like our coffee mentor," Raggett said.

Boomtown is one of the most popular roasters in the city, with dozens of clients and two storefronts: Boomtown Coffee in the Heights neighborhood, and Honeymoon Cafe & Bar in Downtown Houston. But at the time, Toomey himself was trying to get his own business off the ground. The two would end up evolving together.

Raggett even helped the roaster reach his own "outrage moment." As she explained the details of the cafe's mission and the problems it was attempting to address, Toomey called it "eye-opening."


"Her mission is so pure and true, that it's hard not to support it," Toomey said. "I think she says it herself: How can you not do anything? I was like, 'Oh my god, of course I want to help you.'"


Toomey immediately began to donate his time, teaching Raggett about coffee and speaking to volunteers on how to prepare coffee and run a shop. He held a coffee cupping for Raggett and her board members, and when Toomey opened his Boomtown Coffee storefront in 2012, Raggett worked in the kitchen for a year. Finally, this past October, A 2nd Cup opened its storefront on East 11th Street in the Heights.

The store itself focuses on local and fair-trade products. Ragget's shop exclusively serves Boomtown Coffee, which Toomey said he sells to the shop at a discount. The beans are imported from across the globe and roasted downtown, behind Toomey's Honeymoon Cafe. (The roastery will soon move to a warehouse with more space, he said.) Everything else—the syrups used in the drinks, the ingredients in the food, even the packaged candy—is ethically sourced.

The walls in the roughly 5,000-square-foot shop are lined with trafficking statistics, and a bulletin board in the middle of the shop provides information on local anti-trafficking organizations like Love 146, Freedom Place, and Free the Captives. A large back room acts as a meeting place for anti-trafficking nonprofits.

"We want 2nd Cup to be like the hub of anti-trafficking activity, and so that means we want to meet with other organizations here," Raggett said. "Being strategic about the way we fight human trafficking is what's going to actually make the difference."


The shop also sells T-shirts, stickers, and mugs emblazoned with the A 2nd Cup logo, a phoenix rising. Even the name has taken on another meaning: the second cup symbolizes a second chance.


Raggett doesn't get into the details of how well the shop has done in its first few months open, though Toomey said she has "hit the ground running,"

"I've consulted on a lot of places," Toomey said. "None of them have opened with the momentum right out the gate that these guys have. It's pretty amazing."

Raggett's measure of success is the number of people who have shown interest: She says she receives a new email almost every week from interested volunteers. But most importantly, Raggett hopes the shop brings people to their own "outrage moment."

"Most of the people working in the anti-trafficking field had a moment of outrage, where they first heard about human trafficking and were like, 'This is not OK, it cannot be happening in our city, and I can't allow it,'" she said. "We want to provide that place for people."