One of the greatest disasters of the century, the earthquake that struck on February 6, 2023, affecting 11 provinces in Turkey, prompted Turkish-Americans in the United States to mobilize for aid efforts. Online campaigns were launched, and people came together to donate clothing, medical supplies, tents, and various other materials. However, questions arose as to how and where the aid would be organized. The logistics company PortX, located in Carlstadt, New Jersey, became the central hub for the relief campaign on the East Coast. With the assistance of around 300 volunteers, nearly 200 containers of relief supplies were packaged at the PortX warehouse.
Turkon, which facilitated the shipment of containers to Turkey, and Barsan, a logistics company with warehouses in different states across the US, played a leading role in organizing the earthquake relief efforts. Non-profit organizations, such as Turkish Philanthropy Funds and Bride to Turkiye, collected nearly $15 million in cash donations. Art Stone and Smart Logistics, based in New Jersey, and Extended Global Freight, based in Los Angeles, served as central hubs for the collection and distribution of aid. Hundreds of volunteers flocked to aid centers. Turkish and Muslim police officers serving in New York City have sent collected aid to those affected by the earthquakes measuring 7.7 and 7.6 originating from Kahramanmaraş. We interviewed the key actors involved in organizing the assistance efforts in the United States, and Eyüp Ulu, the owner of PortX Transportation Company, stood out as a prominent figure. A total of 420 tons of aid supplies departed from the Port of Elizabeth in New Jersey on February 18th 2023 with the participation of Washington's Ambassador Murat Mercan. The amount of earthquake aid sent from JFK to Turkey via Turkish Cargo, which belongs to Turkish Airlines (THY), exceeded 500 tons.
Turkish Ambassador Murat Mercan, who played a significant role in organizing the relief efforts in the earthquake disaster in Turkey, along with Consul General Reyhan Özgür in New York, were among the dedicated individuals who put in a lot of effort. There was significant participation from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, and it was noted that more than 10 collection centers were established in these regions.
We asked Eyüp Ulu about his efforts. Did you anticipate that the aid campaign would become such a large-scale organization when you first started?
"It never crossed my mind. When the first campaign started, I thought people would bring in small items and we would gather around 5-6 containers of relief supplies. However, truckloads of donations started pouring in. The campaign gained momentum. As a logistics company, we work with everyone, including Americans. Everyone started searching for customers this time. Americans started reaching out, and we're still receiving aid from them. Look, it's been a month, and we're still receiving help. We still have messages coming in.
Over 150 containers were sent to Turkey from the PortX hub. If we include the ones sent via Turkish Airlines, the total number of containers sent for aid exceeds 200. During this time, approximately 30 employees of the company devoted all their efforts to the aid campaign.
Initially, a large amount of clothing donations was made, but we eventually stopped accepting them. I had a discussion with Ekmel Anda, a businessman who had previously organized aid efforts during the Van earthquake. He provided some insights on certain aspects. We tried to avoid accepting used items as donations. After a while, we only accepted tent and medical supplies.
Furthermore, we actively participated in aid campaigns. We organized a group and sent 1,600 tents to the earthquake-stricken areas.
During this period, I was deeply affected by the cries for help coming from Turkey. There wasn't a single day when I didn't start my day in tears. It lasted for about a month, throughout the earthquake process.
Our employees also dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to the aid campaign. Some of them worked seven days and nights. Even an employee who usually complained and didn't want to work willingly participated in the aid campaign without uttering a word of complaint.
We had a promise to our ambassador. You don't even need to ask if we would help in places they couldn't reach. Just send us the address, and we will send a truck to pick it up.
I saw nearly 300 volunteers in the company's park on a weekend. People of different religions and nationalities came together for the purpose of helping. It's not easy to break a record by sorting and filling 30 containers in a day. Turkish restaurants in the area, such as Toros, İstanbul Café, and Çınar, delivered meals to the volunteers.
At least through the earthquake, we witnessed a sense of solidarity. It reminded me of the Ottoman society before the First World War. There were no divisions; Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, Greeks, and Muslims were all working together as if there were no war, striving to provide assistance.’’
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