At the July 3 Eugene Emeralds game, people walked the concourse with the usual staples — ketchup covered hot dogs, fries and something new: bright pink cupcakes.
The cupcakes are staples of a new nonprofit in Lane County known as The Cupcake Girls.
The cupcakes are from the table covered in their merch, and the people behind the table are cheerful and smiling, yelling over the loudspeakers and joyful noise of PK Park.
The Cupcake Girls is a family affair, with husbands and kids participating in the action, and the youngest members threw out the first pitch of the game.
They first met with the Emeralds when they had neighboring booths at a University of Oregon career fair. Before they knew it they had a table at the July 3 fireworks game, one of the busiest nights of the season.
Started in Las Vegas in 2011, The Cupcake Girls founder Joy Hoover would visit local clubs to talk to the dancers toting the cupcakes. From there, The Cupcake Girls would become a way for those in adult industries and sex work to find medical help, advocacy and crisis and emergency care without pushing anything other than respect and inclusiveness.
“The cupcakes were just a fun conversation piece that we’d bring into the strip clubs in Vegas, and then the clients started calling us ‘cupcake girls,’” Hoover said. “It’s just a timeless baked good that provides as a conversation starter for people in the adult industries so we can share with them who we are, what our mission is and how many resources we provide for individuals that may need it.”
The Cupcake Girls made the decision to bring awareness of their work to Lane County and it happened organically for a few reasons, including the fact that Springfield has more strip clubs per capita than any city in the U.S., according to Amy-Marie Merrell, The Cupcake Girls’ City Director of Portland.
“We kept having clients that were reaching out to us from this area, my parents live in this area and I was able to talk to a few people here after getting the request from the clients,” Merrell said. “The sex trafficking here is just as extreme as it is in Portland because of the I-5 corridor.”
For Hoover and Merrell, it takes an understanding that every situation is different, and the glamour you see on TV is not always the story of every sex worker or adult entertainer.
“We see a lot of systemic poverty, we see issues within the needs of medical, dental and legal, we see a lot of mothers and a lot of needs not being met because there’s no H.R. and there’s no regular support for people who work in the sex industry,” Hoover said.
Before starting The Cupcake Girls and still to this day, Hoover balances a growing nonprofit with her family and being a part-time hairdresser, and Merrell still works full-time in advertising. When it comes to family involvement, Hoover feels it’s important her daughters understand the importance of treating people with respect.
“My husband and I started The Cupcake Girls, and when we had babies we wanted our daughters around people that are marginalized, any types of people,” Hoover said. “We want our kids not just to hear us say we’re safe and inclusive and that we give back, but that they see us do it with their own eyes.””
Not every story is the same, according to Hoover. And for many, being trafficked can start anywhere, whether it be from a family member or it can be a college student.
“Being at a college, you might run across individuals who are working in the sex industry, potentially are being trafficked, and the biggest thing is to be a safe and kind person to be able to talk to and have share with you, ‘hey this is going on and I need help, I need support,’” Hoover said.
For Hoover and Merrell, the mission is purely to help people who need it, without pushing them in or out of the industry or pushing any sort of agenda, and to provide care in a safe place for anyone.
“To me, there’s no better feeling than to provide that not just for our clients which is why I started The Cupcake Girls, but for our staff and our volunteers and our partners,” Hoover said. “And showing my daughters that women can link arms and really make a difference in the world, and that we can do that through something as little as a cupcake.”
Editor’s note: This post has been edited for clarity.