Santa Rosa family start penny drive for victims of Turkey, Syria earthquake

The Kareesan family watched news of the aftermath of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck southern Turkey near the Syrian border early February.

Struck with sadness, Priya, 13, Vijay 19, and their dad Guru Kareesan faced a common hurdle when facing a tragedy: They felt a strong desire to help but didn’t know how to or where to start.

So, they started in their community.

After brainstorming, they formed the idea of holding a penny drive at at least 12 schools that are a part of the Rincon Valley and Mark West Union School District to help raise funds for resources including food, shelter, and supplies for those affected by the disaster in Turkey and Syria.

The penny drive at the schools start on March 15. Past that date, people can drop off pennies at the Rincon Valley School Union School District office at 1000 Yulupa Avenue in Santa Rosa or community members can also use a QR code to donate until March 23.

“When we live in an earthquake prone area, seeing people suffer and not being able to do anything about it is hard,” Guru, who lives in Santa Rosa said. “I don’t know anyone personally who has been affected but as I see the effects more and more, these people start feeling like family. It’s heartbreaking.”

After Priya reached out to Dr. Tracy Smith, superintendent of Rincon Valley Union School District in February, Smith welcomed the idea instantly. She was on board. Then, Vijay began designing flyers. They began reaching out to more schools in the area.

“Kids at schools can feel like they’re doing something impactful,” said Priya, a student a Rincon Valley Middle School. “It makes me feel good knowing I’m helping.”

This isn’t the first time the Kareesan family poured themselves into helping others when tragedy strikes. In June 2021, the family held a COVID-19 fundraiser that focused on bringing ventilators, COVID-19 tests, and masks to India. They raised over $1,500 for the cause, Guru said.

The family is working with The Center for Disaster Philanthropy, a Washington based charity, to bring funds to those in need in Turkey and Syria, Guru said.

On Feb. 6, the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit southern Turkey and northern Syria leaving nearly 50,000 people dead, according to the Associated Press.

“It’s a very important lesson for my kids to learn — they should step up and do something when they see tragedy,” Guru said. “The community and the world needs that.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at [email protected]. @searchingformya on Twitter.

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