“My whole family lives in Turkey. My mom is from a town called Malayta, one of the ten towns that were affected. I have two aunts and several cousins currently living there. After the first earthquake, they made it out OK. They spent the first night in their car. Luckily, they did not go back inside their home because nine hours after the first one, there was a second earthquake. And with that one, their houses came down.”

Turkish-born Semih Ayhan, who lives in Minnesota and is the founder and owner of Med Box Grill in Chanhassen, was talking about the events of February 6, 2023, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern and central Turkey and parts of Syria. It was the strongest earthquake to hit Turkey since 1939 and the deadliest in more than 80 years. Nine hours after the first earthquake, another 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit the region. Thousands of aftershocks rocked the area. On February 20, yet another earthquake struck, this one registering at a 6.5 magnitude.

Semih Ayhan, right, with TAAM President, Ilgin Sezer, in front of donations collected at the Med Box Grill for Turkey relief efforts.

In Turkey alone, more than 12,000 buildings collapsed. More than 43,000 people lost their lives and the numbers continue to rise. Entire families are gone. The images are almost too much to comprehend: mountains upon mountains of rubble where homes and buildings once stood; entire towns and villages flattened; families digging desperately for loved ones buried in the debris.

According to a statement from the Turkish President this week, around 865,000 people are now living in tents, 23,500 in container homes, and 376,000 in student dormitories and public guesthouses outside the earthquake zone.

Turkish communities around the United States have rallied in their efforts to help their loved ones back home. So far more than 160 tons of humanitarian aid have been sent to Turkey by Turkish communities working in collaboration with relief organizations in the United States and Turkey. Semih, who serves as Vice President of the Turkish American Association of MN (TAAM), explained the enormity of the disaster. “Most in our community here have either a friend or a family member that is affected by this. In fact, one in seven Turkish people worldwide has either personally lost someone or knows someone who has.”

When natural disasters strike in the United States and around the world, MATTER stands ready to provide medical aid through relief supplies to those on the ground. Soon after the earthquakes hit Turkey, Semih and other members of TAAM were in the MATTER warehouse collecting everything from orthopedic supplies, wound care supplies, gloves, gowns, and even air mattresses and baby bottles. In all, 26 pallets of supplies were loaded onto a truck bound for Chicago. From there, they were put onto a Turkish Air flight and flown into Istanbul where they’re now being distributed to the hardest hit areas.

“We in the Turkish community appreciate how MATTER stepped up and opened their doors to us. It means a lot to us,” said Semih, adding “Everyone in our community is aware of MATTER now.”

Katie Johnson, Director of Global Health Initiatives for MATTER, being interviewed by 5 Eyewitness News on Feb. 11, 2023, regarding the medical relief supplies sent to Turkey in partnership with TAAM.

Despite the enormity of the disaster, Semih has already seen good come from the tragedy. “With the pandemic and all the fears surrounding it, people in the Turkish community here were mostly just living their own lives. But this has brought our community together. That’s been really good to see.”

MATTER’s partnership with TAAM is just beginning. Recovering and rebuilding from a disaster of this magnitude will take months and years. “You can rebuild buildings, but rebuilding communities takes much longer. Entire families have been lost, so it’s going to be a long process.  That’s why I tell people here that it’s our turn to be strong for the people who survived so they can start a new life because life continues. This is the only way I know how to respond, by staying strong and doing as much as we can with the help of MATTER and other great organizations.”

If you’d like to support MATTER’s ongoing effort to provide medical relief for Turkey in partnership with TAAM, please visit our donation page here.