Earthquake in Turkey and Syria: EECS extends a hand to help survivors

A staffer in a red vest digs through a large pile of cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and other containers filled with donated items.Staffers at the Freerange Market process donations from EECS and others in the Boston area. Photo credit: Leslie Kolodziejski.

On Monday, February 6, 2023 at 4:17 AM local time, an earthquake registering 7.8 in magnitude devastated multiple regions of Turkey and Syria, and was felt hundreds of miles away in Ankara and in neighboring Lebanon. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost, with thousands of people injured and millions whose lives have been seriously impacted. Watching the images on the news and learning about miraculous rescues on the radio left all of our community members heartbroken and worried for all of those who have family, friends and colleagues in Turkey and Syria. In EECS, we have faculty and staff with Turkish and Syrian origins, and we have seven undergraduate and eleven graduate students who have loved ones in the impacted areas. Thankfully, to our knowledge, our EECS community members did not lose any loved ones, but many Turkish and Syrian friends and family were seriously impacted and suffering devastating losses to their livelihoods.

Immediately, the MIT Turkish Students Association sprang into action by creating drop off locations for donations of desperately needed warm clothing and outer wear, bedding, generators, medicines and all kinds of personal items. Our own first-year EECS graduate student Ilker Demirel organized a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for Bridge to Turkiye; with a goal of $35,000 USD, the campaign has thus far raised $32,537.

In EECS, the usual Monday faculty working lunch was paused; in its place, faculty and staff were invited to bring any items for donation to the survivors of the earthquake. Turkish and Syrian students were also invited and joined for nourishment, fellowship and to allow community members to share their support. From Feb. 13 to Feb. 17, the EECS headquarters was temporarily staged as a drop-off location for donations. All kinds of items were offered, including a tent, a cot, many types of blankets, comforters, and sleeping bags, along with dozens of beautiful and warm items of outer wear for children, women and men. In the HQ1 conference room, the items were sorted and labeled in preparation to move the items to a location for shipment.

At the last minute, many more blankets were delivered to the EECS headquarters drop-off location. Finally, all sorted, labeled and bagged items were piled into the transport vehicle. The EECS items filled every square inch of the car with the only possible addition to be the driver; not even a passenger was able to enter the front seat; the mirrors were barely visible!

As recommended by the Turkish Consulate, the EECS donations were delivered to a drop-off location in Medford, MA known as the Freerange Market. The Freerange Market is an independent grocery store specializing in international essentials and delicacies from Eastern, Western and Nordic Europe. The owners of the market are accepting donations for ultimate transport to Logan Airport to be airlifted to the afflicted regions of Turkey, and hopefully also transported to the damaged regions in Syria.

Arriving at the Freerange Market, my car was immediately surrounded by volunteers offering to remove the donations from the car. Volunteer workers were feverishly sorting, organizing and then packaging up all of the received items. Our EECS donations were prepared in advance and lined up ready to be loaded into a transport truck destined for Logan Airport. Inside the Freerange Market, the owners had prepared an assortment of beautiful Turkish pastries along with coffee as an offering, welcoming donors and eager to express their gratitude for the many, many donations. Their words: thank you so much; thank you.

The drop-off was highly emotional and tears were shed. On the one hand, my heart was heavy and worried about the people located over four thousand miles away who would be the recipients of our EECS donations. On the other hand, my heart was full with the kindness and care given to me by the Turkish volunteers working frantically and tirelessly to send help to their compatriots as quickly as possible.

EECS helped. Thank you to our EECS community. There will be much need for many months to come; please consider all ways available to continue supporting the survivors of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

Special thanks to the graduate office staff and headquarters staff for assistance in managing the donations.

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