Call it waffles with a side of social justice. A west Columbus Waffle House is joining the fight against human trafficking.
It may seem like a strange fit - a 24-hour diner and the fight against modern-day slavery. But ask those who work in this restaurant, in this neighborhood, and they'll tell you it makes perfect sense.
It's the lunch rush at the Waffle House on West Broad. Like any other day, the first priority is what goes on the plate.
"We want to give good food fast,” said Waffle House District Manager Tessa Shaw.
But today, there's something else on the menu. "25 percent of our sales is going to that cause,” said Shaw.
‘That ‘cause’ is the fight against human trafficking, something those who work here have seen for themselves. "We see it every day,” said Shaw. “Whether they're coming into the Waffle House to eat, whether they're being drug in here to get sober, eat something so they can get clean."
"This is the west side of Columbus, Ohio, which is the heaviest population of teen trafficking victims, just for prostitution, street prostitution period," said Marlene Carson. She is the founder of Rahab's Hideaway, a shelter for trafficking survivors. She calls this neighborhood Columbus's "Red Light District".
That's why Tessa and the staff say this effort won't stop with a one-day fundraiser.
She wants her restaurant to be a safe haven for those in trouble. "They really do need help, and I want them to know that they can walk up to us and ask."
Posters in the Waffle House’s bathroom now offer a rescue hotline.
"Because pimps tell you nobody's looking for you, nobody cares,” said Carson. “They tell you you're not worth anything, but go get me money, which is an oxymoron. So to have that poster, to have that phone number, it says a lot to a girl. Even if she doesn't call that first time, she will call eventually."
Customer Teresa Fields has daughters and granddaughters. That alone makes this an issue she cares about.
"I'm proud of them for helping this neighborhood. there are so many young girls who are out on their own at night," said Fields.
While waffles and eggs will remain the staples, workers here hope they can provide something more than just food. "I hope that it shows women there is hope,” said Shaw. “And I hope we can help save some lives."