WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) – As recovery efforts continue in devastated Turkey and Syria, help is coming from Hampton Roads.
“Most stuff is new and it will really, really help,” said Baki Oncu.
We first introduced you to Olde Towne Pizza and Pasta owner Baki Oncu about a month ago.
He rallied friends, customers and fellow restaurant owners like Retro’s Good Eats owner Ihsan Korkmaz to collect donations to send to their home county of Turkey.
“People come from Richmond, Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads, from Williamsburg,” Oncu said. “A lot of people care about this, more people keep calling me, saying if they need anything else we can help.”
The death toll now stands over 45,000 in Turkey and more than 6,000 in Syria. Those who survived are living in tents in the middle of winter.
Mehmet Sahhoca works at Olde Towne Pizza and Pasta and just returned from seeing the devastation first-hand in his hometown.
“I had hoped to save my mom,” Sahhoca said. “I know they can not reach every house, so I immediately tried to go there and do whatever I can.”
Sahhoca’s dad was pulled from the rubble 12 hours after the first earthquake hit.
His mother, Meliha, didn’t make it. Her body was pulled from the rubble four days later.
He said he tried to help as many people as he could.
“Nobody was there, everything was destroyed,” Sahhoca said. “It was terrible. I don’t know how to describe that, but it was so bad.”
He said his family stayed in a tent for a week until they could find a safer place to go, but he noted that many people don’t even have tents.
“We are lucky we find one, but most people still sleeping in the car,” Sahhoca said.
Most who survived lost everything, so the group came together to collect hundreds of donations.
They collected everything from clothes to shoes to gloves to blankets and diapers, then Turkish community members like Aslihan Celik helped organize them into boxes based on different categories.
“It feels great as Turkish community of Williamsburg to get together and run this campaign,” Celik said. “Even though we will not be there with them to actually help in person, this will definitely help them.”
Celik grew up in Istanbul, and though- she didn’t lose any immediate family members in the devastation, many of her friends have been impacted. She said people in Turkey are in desperate need of tents.
“People are in need of tents for living spaces, so please continue sending them and donations and hopefully, people will recover from this disaster very soon,” said Celik.
They also added a message of hope.
“We wrote a message to the earthquake victims in Turkey, and we are sending them our condolences,” Celik said. “We are sending them lots of love.”
Love from Hampton Roads.
The container will take about 22 days to get to Turkey.
Oncu teamed up with other restaurant owners to split the cost to send the container to Turkey.
“We are small community here,” Oncu said, “and we look out for each other as best we can.”
Want to help?
If you didn’t get a chance to donate, but would still like to, here are some organizations that the Turkish Community of Williamsburg recommends:
- AFAD is Turkey’s Ministry of Interior Disaster and Emergency Management Authority.
- AHBAP is a non-governmental organization with over 30,000 members that actively work in the earthquake zone and help earthquake victims.
- AKUT is a Turkish Search and Rescue Association, a NGO for disaster search and rescue relief.
- Kizilay is the RedCross of Turkey.