Gokhan Yavuz started making phone calls as soon as he heard that a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake had struck southeast Turkey.
Just one week earlier, the metro Atlanta resident and Turkish immigrant was in the city of Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter of Monday’s quake. He was now worried the friends he’d spent time with there were among the thousands dead.
“As the hours passed by, I started receiving news from my friends. Like, ‘Hey, yeah, my grandfather is under the rubble,’ or another one saying ‘My aunt is under the rubble.’ We have very unfortunate stories like that,” Yavuz said. “If it’s not them, then someone they know or someone in their family is sadly affected by this, either wounded or unfortunately dead.”
An officer with the Turkish American Chamber of Commerce of the South, Yavuz leveraged connections with the Turkish consular corps in the region to coordinate a donations drive and send aid items to impacted communities in his home country. His efforts are a part of a broader humanitarian response taking shape in Georgia, as members of the Turkish exile community and Atlanta-based nonprofits mobilize to help.
Among the items that Yavuz and a group of volunteers are gathering, sorting, and packing at a Norcross warehouse are insulated tents, cold weather sleeping bags, coats, sweaters, gloves and scarves.
Those items are needed because people forced from their homes in the quake-impacted areas are facing brutally cold temperatures. Yavuz noted that some of his acquaintances in the region have been sleeping in their cars.
Credit: Miguel Martinez
Credit: Miguel Martinez
Also needed: canned food, baby formula, diapers, hygiene products including menstrual products, and over-the-counter medication and painkillers.
Yavuz said that Turkish Airlines will be picking up six pallets’ worth of donations roughly every day and transporting them to Turkey for free on the company’s near daily flight from Atlanta to Istanbul.
Support for the donations drive has been outstanding, Yavuz said.
“Today, I will tell you, my phone has not been stopping since 8 a.m., which is amazing,” he said.
Among those gathering items for the drive are members of the Ahiska Turkish Community Center of Atlanta, as well as benefactors from out-of-state.
Kemal Budak, a visiting assistant professor in the sociology department at Emory University, is originally from the western part of Turkey. He knows several people in metro Atlanta who have been directly affected, including some “who have not had good news.”
Alongside his wife, he has already made a donation to help, and he plans to start a GoFundMe to raise additional funds. He said people are very interested in getting involved, and he’s recently fielded calls from a Roman Catholic church in Marietta and a Southern Baptist church in Cartersville.
Although supplies are needed, he explained it may take time and money to transport items, so, for most people, financial donations to credible nonprofits might be the best option right now.
Elsewhere, CARE USA, a nonprofit headquartered in Atlanta, told the AJC that “our on-the-ground teams and partners are working to deliver blankets, food, mattresses, tents, and other non-food items to people in need amid harsh weather conditions.”
CARE is also working to address urgent needs including providing machinery for the removal of debris, distributing cash to survivors, procuring energy supplies, and assisting with water trucking and sanitation services for temporary shelters housing displaced people.
MAP International, a Christian nonprofit based out of Brunswick, is also getting involved by sending much needed supplies and medicine to first responders and medical teams on the ground, with the goal of helping earthquake survivors both in Turkey and in neighboring Syria.
The emergency health kits will include antibiotics, pain relievers, antiseptics, bandages and gloves that can serve 10,000 people for 90 days, according to the Brunswick-based nonprofit’s website. Disaster health kits will also be sent containing items such toothpaste, first aid kits and hygiene products.
“We’re hearing the situation on the ground is horrific with lives lost and people still searching for loved ones. It’s heartbreaking to see what people in Turkey and Syria are going through,” said Steve Stirling, president and CEO of MAP.
He said no staffers are expected to go to the affected areas. “We rely on our partners on the group for a much quicker response.”
The nonprofit said its goal is to raise $100,000 immediately to get the supplies shipped to the two nations affected. Volunteers are also needed to help pack kits both in Brunswick and in Atlanta.
At the local level, the Roswell Community Masjid, an area mosque, has created an Amazon wish list to support relief efforts. Asked-for items include winter beanies and fleece blankets. They will be delivered to the Turkish Embassy in Washington D.C., for distribution to affected areas.
For Yavuz, diving headfirst into the local humanitarian efforts is a way to support his homeland from afar.
“Regardless of your geographic location, you want to do your best. … If we had to go and do search-and-rescue, without thinking we would do that … It’s our culture. Turkish people are very tied to our families and to our homeland.”
Credit: Miguel Martinez
Credit: Miguel Martinez
How you can help:
- Donate winter clothes and other critically needed items to Yavuz’s team at 5201 Brook Hollow Pkwy. Suite C Norcross, GA 30071. Those interested in donating their team should get in touch with Yavuz by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Donate to CARE’s Turkey Syria Earthquakes Fund.
- Donate to MAP International’s emergency earthquake relief fund.
- Buy items off the Roswell Community Masjid’s Amazon wish list.
- Donate to a pair of Turkish-American Atlanta high schoolers’ GoFundMe fundraiser, benefiting AHBAP, a Turkish NGO.
Staff writer Adrianne Murchison contributed to this report.
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