Chicagoans to provide winter items, money and support to Turkey and Syria following 7.8 magnitude earthquake – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

Rana Yurtsever was at a friend’s house Sunday night with her mother-in-law, who is visiting from Turkey, when they first heard the news of the powerful earthquake that rocked through wide swaths of Turkey and neighboring Syria on Monday local time. Yurtsever’s first thought was of her pregnant sister-in-law, who lives in a 10-story building in southern Turkey.

“My mother-in-law obviously … was just very, very scared. All of us were, and I asked her to immediately call my sister-in-law and she’s, she’s pregnant,” Yurtsever recalled. “So we were all very scared for her. But thankfully we reached her, and she said, ‘It was the scariest moment of my life.’”

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which was centered in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, killed more than 3,400 people and injured thousands more as it toppled thousands of buildings and trapped residents under mounds of rubble. Authorities feared the death toll would continue to climb as rescuers searched through tangles of metal and concrete for survivors. In Chicago, Turkish and Syrian organizations quickly rallied to provide aid and support for those affected.

Yurtsever, the president of the Turkish American Society of Chicago, said she spent the next couple of hours calling as many people as she could in her 500-member group. She called to let them know of the news and provide condolences if necessary. Three members said they had family members stuck in the wreckage as they were speaking.

“We have been talking to so many people all day long and I’m just so full of emotion,” said Yurtsever. “We all are friends. I mean Turkey is not a big, big country. It has a large population, but so many people have friends and family in the area. So everybody is affected.”

A woman reacts as rescuers search for survivors through the rubble of collapsed buildings in Adana, Turkey, on Feb. 6, 2023, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country.

Yurtsever said the damage the earthquake caused to the country’s infrastructure is making it harder to react to the needs of survivors. A family member of hers was able to leave the area in time to drive to central Turkey, “but they said that they have just run out of gas because all the gas stations have also collapsed and there’s no gas, no electricity, no, nothing, basically. So they are basically just on the side of the road right now. Waiting for help.”

“It’s a very devastating situation and all that we can do is really pray and send funds in any way we can,” Yurtsever said.

The Turkish American Society of Chicago, which is based in Mount Prospect, is working with Embrace Relief so that donors can send financial aid to southern Turkey, Yurtsever said.

Vildan Gorener, president of the Turkish American Cultural Alliance, says her organization is collaborating with the Turkish Consulate to accumulate monetary donations and supplies Turkish Airlines can send to Turkey.

Gorener said they are hoping to receive winter items such as blankets, diapers, winter socks and shoes for children and adults. Donors can drop off those goods at 3845 N. Harlem Ave. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as at the Turkish Consulate at NBC Tower, 455 Cityfront Plaza Drive.

Gorener said the efforts also are being made by 60 different chapters under the Assembly of Turkish American Association. “I’ve been on the phone all morning,” she said. “I’m tired.”

An aerial view shows residents searching for victims and survivors amid the rubble of collapsed buildings on Feb. 6, 2023, following an earthquake in the village of Besnia near the town of Harim, in Syria's rebel-held northwestern Idlib province on the border with Turkey.

The Syrian Community Network said it will provide time for hundreds of its members to get together in the community. Daniel Hudson, the intake coordinator at SCN, said their Syrian clients want to support one another, particularly those who have family in the region affected by the earthquake or have other connections to those places.

“We aren’t equipped with giving counseling services,” said Hudson. “And we have some staff who have family over there as well. So it’s a little bit heavy for some of our staff.”

The activity will be restricted to the SCN’s clients to give them privacy.

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“We have no idea who is going to be seeking support, who’s going to be asking questions. Mostly we’re here to respond whenever they have questions.” Hudson said.

Halil Demir, executive director of Bridgeview-based Zakat Foundation of America, a worldwide organization dedicated to addressing the immediate needs of the world’s poorest people, was born in a remote village in southeastern Turkey. In a statement, the organization said he was traveling to Turkey Monday to help provide assistance in the earthquake’s aftermath and that the organization would be providing emergency recovery kits, hygiene kits, warm food and blankets.

People search for survivors among the debris in a destroyed building in Adana, Turkey, on Feb. 6.

The organization is working to help prevent a secondary crisis from people being out in the cold, including those who have been displaced by the earthquake and Syrian refugees.

“Donors can contribute to the emergency fundraising campaign at by selecting Turkiye Earthquake,” the statement said. “These donations will be distributed as aid 100% to those in need in the country.”

Yurtsever said she hasn’t slept much since she heard the news of the earthquake.

“Since then we’ve just been up, like praying for people and just really being a community leader,” she said. “I’ve been trying to reach out to our community members to see if everybody’s been well and how they’re doing and if they have any family members that are affected, but it’s just a very difficult time.”

The Associated Press contributed.

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