Quake propels merchant to act

Relief: A Glen Burnie businessman has organized a drive to help victims in his native Turkey.

October 13, 1999|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

Huseyin Demiral remembers the earthquake that shook his country when he was a soldier in the Turkish army in 1975. People were trapped under ice and snow. Relief supplies were stolen for the black market, and power was lost for days.

When he heard of the Aug. 17 earthquake in Turkey in which at least 16,000 people were killed, Demiral was moved to action. The Glen Burnie businessman started gathering food and clothing while searching for a way to deliver the supplies directly to the people in need.

"They need help," said Demiral, who moved to Maryland in 1984 from Balikesir, Turkey. "This was worse than the earthquake before."

With the help of friends and co-workers, Demiral, who owns Glen Burnie Mufflers and Brakes in the 500 block of Crain Highway, created a nonprofit group to collect money and supplies for the victims. The group was named Ates Turkish Charity. "Ates," Demiral said, means "fast" in Turkish.

Peter Bercik, who owns Kay's Reconditioned Appliances Warehouse across a parking lot from Demiral, donated four 50-foot trailers in which to store supplies.

After winning nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service, which took almost a month, Demiral and friends have collected enough clothes, kitchen supplies, nonperishable foods and other items to fill 1 1/2 trailers -- about 300 boxes. The group also has raised $3,000 in donations.

The efforts complement continuing relief work by larger organizations that are collecting money and supplies nationwide for the earthquake victims, said Guler Koknar, executive director of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, a Washington-based umbrella organization of 54 Turkish-American groups. More than 70 nonprofit groups throughout the country are involved in relief efforts, she said.

"We have activated the Turkish-American community to reach out in the communities they live in to get donations," Koknar said. About 300,000 Turkish-Americans live in the United States, including 6,000 in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, he added.

Now, Demiral needs to get the donations to his contact, Hasan Ozhan, governor of Kocaeli, Turkey.

Demiral said he plans to have the boxes shipped by the U.S. Department of Defense, through a program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which uses military air cargo space to ship supplies for humanitarian purposes. He expects to apply to the program shortly.

"It hasn't been easy," Demiral said, "but compared to what people over there are going through, it hasn't been that bad."

The Turkish government estimated two weeks after the quake that 500,000 to 600,000 people had been displaced. Officials said the government would have to build 120,000 to 200,000 homes.

In phone calls to Turkey, Demiral said, he has heard stories of people starving and in need of medical supplies, and living in battered tents on rat- and snake-infested land.

One of Demiral's customers, Aynur Unalp, a doctoral student at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health from Ankara, Turkey, recruited her co-workers to help the group. They sorted through the donations two weeks ago.

"We all wanted to do something, so we started this," Unalp said. "This is a real community initiative."

In hopes of reaching more people for donations, Unalp and Demiral spoke to several hundred people Sept. 21 at the school. Demiral has put a sign asking for help on one of the trailers, which sits in the parking lot on Crain Highway.

Bercik, who donated the trailers, said Demiral has been relentless in collecting donations. A few days after the earthquake, Bercik said, Demiral asked him whether he could help.

Bercik, 69, responded by offering the trailers and calling on other friends to help.

"I'm just trying to do something good for people who are less fortunate," Bercik said. "The worst thing I had down here was flooding."

Demiral said he is going to continue to collect clothing and food to send to Turkey.

Pub Date: 10/13/99

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