Survivors of sex trafficking find healing in cooking class

It's been more than three decades since Gina Cavallo left her New Jersey home and took two jobs in the Fort Lauderdal...

Posted: May 29, 2018 10:18 AM
Updated: May 29, 2018 10:18 AM

It's been more than three decades since Gina Cavallo left her New Jersey home and took two jobs in the Fort Lauderdale area of Florida. She was hired by a rental car company and also doing work as a waitress. She befriended an older man that she trusted.

One day, the man invited Cavallo to meet his family.

"He took me to his door to meet his family, he bolted the doors, and that was it. There was no family," Cavallo told PIX11.

Cavallo said what followed was a beating, forced ingestion of drugs, and rape. She didn't escape the darkness for three years, although she was moved around a lot.

"I remember Canada. I remember being on the border of Mexico. I remember being in New York, in Florida and Georgia," Cavallo said.

She cried when she recalled seeing other people at one border crossing.

"There were people passing, and I wish I had stopped them," Cavallo said through tears.

Cavallo said she got away from her trafficker in Las Vegas, when a woman she met in a casino phoned her parents. She was on a plane to New Jersey that night and reunited with her mother and father.

But Cavallo said she largely blocked her trafficking years from her mind.

When she told her first husband about it, she said her in-laws were upset to hear about her background. Her husband took their advice and divorced her.

"I was really broken about that," Cavallo recalled. "So I started to use drugs and alcohol."

Cavallo married a second time, but that didn't work out either. She has two daughters in their 30s.

She said her mind buried her secrets for years, until she attended a retreat at Emergence Church in Totowa, New Jersey.

The program is called Redemption and Recovery.

"I am so grateful," Cavallo said. "I feel the chains being removed."

Cavallo joined a cooking group run by Mentari, an organization founded by Shandra Woworuntu.

Woworuntu was flown to New York from Malaysia more than 15 years ago by a shady group that told her she'd get work as a waitress. Instead, she was sold to a trafficker. Six months into the ordeal, she managed to jump from a second floor window in Sunset Park.

Woworuntu was reunited with her young daughter and later gave birth to a son in the United States. Her work has been recognized with a national award from the L'Oreal organization.

All Souls Unitarian Church on Lexington Svenue offered Mentari the use of its commercial kitchen.

"It's a privilege, really, to be doing this program," said chef John Moogan.

"Being able to feed people is a real gift for the community," he said.

Samantha Inesta, Program Director for Mentari's culinary arts program, said the program gives women who were living interdependent lives independence.

"They learn everything from chopping and boiling to sauté and frying," Inesta said. "They're able to get s job, sustain themselves, and from that, get an apartment, they have their own money."

The women have learned to make appetizers, salads and homemade chicken soup.

Shandra Woworuntu now wants to publish a cook book to help the women-and to assist Mentari with offering more programs.

Anyone who would like to help can contact Mentariusa.org.

Gina Cavallo told us the cooking program has empowered her.

"To me, it's therapeutic. I love to cook," Gina said.

West Lafayette
Scattered Clouds
89° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 93°
Kokomo
Scattered Clouds
86° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 91°
Rensselaer
Scattered Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 86°
Fowler
Scattered Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 86°
Williamsport
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 88°
Crawfordsville
Scattered Clouds
84° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 86°
Frankfort
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 87°
Delphi
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 88°
Monticello
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 88°
Logansport
Clear
87° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 93°
Hotter & More Humid with Some Storms, Then a Cool-Down
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 78632

Reported Deaths: 3113
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16437734
Lake7952283
Elkhart505191
Allen4161164
St. Joseph376683
Hamilton3033104
Vanderburgh212215
Hendricks1978109
Johnson1819119
Cass18139
Porter141539
Clark135250
Tippecanoe129312
Madison106266
LaPorte96730
Howard94865
Kosciusko87812
Bartholomew86747
Floyd86150
Marshall80523
Monroe78432
Vigo77913
Delaware77752
Dubois72912
Noble71729
Boone71646
Hancock70239
Warrick61230
Jackson6075
Shelby57328
LaGrange57110
Grant53330
Dearborn52828
Morgan50135
Henry46720
Clinton4624
Wayne41010
White38411
Montgomery36721
Harrison36524
Lawrence35927
Decatur35332
Putnam3318
Daviess29620
Scott28110
Miami2792
Jasper2662
Greene25934
Franklin25116
Gibson2464
DeKalb2444
Jennings23312
Ripley2218
Steuben2173
Carroll2135
Fayette2097
Perry18913
Orange18824
Posey1840
Starke1817
Wabash1805
Wells1802
Fulton1752
Jefferson1752
Knox1711
Sullivan1631
Whitley1626
Tipton15516
Washington1531
Clay1505
Spencer1403
Randolph1345
Huntington1303
Adams1242
Newton12110
Owen1131
Rush1004
Jay970
Pulaski841
Brown762
Fountain762
Pike670
Blackford662
Benton640
Ohio636
Vermillion620
Switzerland590
Parke581
Martin530
Crawford500
Union420
Warren251
Unassigned0207

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events