When the Rev. Adam Ericksen put up a sign outside his Oregon church supporting the transgender community, he didn’t expect to catch the attention of a local stripper — or to then join forces with her to raise money for the stranded children of immigrants swept up in recent Mississippi ICE raids.
“This was not the first thing on my mind when I became a pastor, that I’d be working with strippers,” Ericksen, who leads the Clackamas United Church of Christ in Milwaukie, tells PEOPLE.
“You would never expect a stripper and a pastor having the same values,” he says, “but here it is.”
He says their unlikely union developed over Facebook a few months ago, after Dawn McCall, also known by her stage name Blu Dawn, saw the sign and sent Ericksen a message.
“I love what you are are doing, keep it up,” she wrote, Ericksen recalls.
In August, thousands of miles away, hundreds of agents carried out a massive immigration raid at seven food processing plants in Mississippi, arresting nearly 700 people whom authorities said were working illegally.
Following the arrests, an unknown number of children of various ages were left, suddenly, without their parents — unsure what to do after school or what to do for dinner. Their predicament became a flashpoint in a fierce debate about the morality and effectiveness of such raids. (ICE said that hundreds of the detainees were released within a day of the raid, pending the outcome of their cases.)
Mississippi’s governor, Phil Bryant, commended the work of prosecutors and ICE agents, tweeting, “If you are here illegally violating federal laws, you have to bear the responsibility of that federal violation.”
“Blu said her heart was breaking for these kids,” Ericksen tells PEOPLE. “And I said, ‘My congregation is reeling from this.’ “
“The tragedy of the kids in Mississippi is a terrible symptom of a horrible social disease we have,” McCall tells PEOPLE. “We have a cancer in this country and part of it is people not just doing anything, we have to do something. If you don’t do anything, you still feel bad and don’t know where to put it.”
McCall, a former foster mom who has five boys of her own, says it was a friend, also a mom, who first alerted her to the urgency of the issue.
“We’re mommys first,” McCall says. “We had to have some tears and feel bad about the situation and then focus.”
Ericksen says that McCall and her “girls” wanted to start a fundraiser, and “I started brainstorming with a stripper on how the church could help.”
That support took the form of purchasing uniquely designed — and very G-rated — T-shirts from one of McCall’s former co-workers, artist Lauren Seeley, on Etsy. (Seeley was the one who first texted McCall about the raids.)
The shirts are emblazoned with the hashtag #OurKids.
In addition, McCall and the other strippers at the vegan strip club Casa Diablo have been raising funds with their more standard skill sets, which she’s not shy about detailing. At fundraising events there, “We split into two teams and motor boat customers for donations. It’s for the kids.”
(“The motorboating is silly but you did a good thing while you were there,” she says. She also sent “sexy photos” at $25 or $50 a pop.)
Between McCall and her co-workers, the T-shirts and Ericksen’s church, they raised $3,000.
All proceeds go to various groups helping the migrant children and their parents in Mississippi; if Ericksen’s congregants didn’t want a T-shirt, he urged them make an online donation to the groups.
“I said, ‘God is going to work through whoever God is going to work through,” Ericksen recalls of his sermon to congregants, “‘and thank God that God is working through strippers in Portland.’ “
That’s not the only cause they’re supporting, McCall says. They’ve raised funds or donated to Mission 22, a local veteran’s outreach program.
While his church is “fully on board” and excited to help, not everyone has been supportive. “I’ve gotten some harsh criticism from some Christians,” Ericksen says. “Someone said to me, ‘Why would you work with a group of strippers? That’s sinful.’ “
Says McCall: “We hustle for those who right now can’t hustle for themselves.”