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Utahns rush to help Turks back home following devastating earthquake

Posted at 5:14 PM, Feb 07, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Although the Utah's Turkish community only adds up to, at most, 1,000 residents, they are working hard to do what they can to help their country in its time of need following this week's devastating earthquake.

The Utah Turkish-American Association is raising funds and items to send home.

"We've been on our phone constantly, all the time." said the association's president, Pinar Toyemir.

She said that 12 million people in 11 Turkish cities have been affected by the earthquake, including some of her own relatives.

"My aunt and my aunt's families are living in cars right now," said Toyemir. "They are trying to live in the streets with the car running and trying to get warm."

The devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that rocked Kahramanmaras has killed nearly 8,000 people in both Turkey and Syria.

It's that kind of massive quake that Ishil Gokgoz, the association's public relations director, experienced first hand in Izmit back in 1999.

"It's a big trauma to go through that," she said. "You just carry that all your life. We slept outside, we camped outside for two weeks. Eventually, when we went back home, we slept with our clothes, flashlight and a bottle of water every night for months."

Now, both Toyemir and Gokgoz say the Utah Turkish-American Association is stepping up to do what they can to help through a fundraising effort.

"We are trying to raise money to send back, and there are some of Turkish associations trying to collect some items to send clothes and things like that," explained Toyemir.

"Anything helps today," added Gokgoz. "Even $10 buys a blanket, so anything would help."

Gokgoz said Turkish Airlines is offering to fly cargo from all of the Turkish-American associations across the U.S. to Turkey free of charge. She says the best way to help is through monetary donations.

"Money directly goes to the hands of rescuers and associations that work day and night," she added.

The hope is to help their homeland in its time of need.

"It's extremely sad and we're trying to figure out what else we can do, how other ways that we can find to help them," said Toyemir.

The group says they are mainly working through the Bridge to Turkey fund when it comes to the donations they are receiving for the recovery and rebuilding efforts back home.