(COLORADO SPRINGS, FOX21) — The devastation from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck southeastern Turkey killed over 50,000 people. Among those were the family members of the owner of Purple Onion Grill, a local Turkish restaurant.
Owner of Purple Onion Grill, Erdal Bengogullari, said the news of the earthquake came in the middle of the night.
“My sister called us and told us they had to evacuate…We had no idea [of how bad it was] until the next day. Then we started finding out that they start pulling dead bodies from under the debris and the news kept coming and coming and coming,” said Bengogullari.
The news that kept coming, was of family members that were found dead in the aftermath. The total count of Bengogullari’s relatives that were killed amounted to 18.
11 of the 18 were nieces, nephews, and cousins who all lived in the same apartment building that collapsed.
“It was devastating…And also it was hopeless…I couldn’t help…You want to reach out, but you can’t…Words cannot explain the feeling,” said Bengogullari.
His mother and his sister managed to escape, but are now displaced from their homes, and while they continue to deal with the immense loss of their family, more earthquakes continue to impact the area.
The family was driving over four hours per day for the burials and services of their family members, back and forth between where they relocated to, and the affected area. In the midst of navigating the aftermath of that earthquake, just last week Turkey was hit by two more powerful earthquakes, ones of 6.4 and 5.8 magnitude.
“So it’s kind of been disaster,” said Bengogullari.
From over 10,000 miles away, Bengogullari is now doing as much as he can to support members of his family that did survive. On Sunday, March 5th, Purple Onion will host a fundraiser with home-cooked authentic Turkish food.
“I will be personally cooking the meal…I’ll cook it overnight. I’ll get up, and then I will do my final touch on it. The little Turkish touch,” said Bengogullari.
The fundraiser will start at 11:00 a.m. and it will be $20 per plate, featuring two main dishes, one chicken, and one beef, paired with a number of sides, sprinkled with the “Turkish touch.” Bengogullari will be in the FOX21 News studio sampling these dishes with Loving Living Local at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 3rd.
The day of the fundraiser, March 5th, is also his birthday. But, with the devastation of his home country, celebrating his birthday is the last thing he can think about. Bengogullari calls the day bittersweet.
“The sweet part is that it’s my birthday. The bitter part is the benefit is for a bad cause. I mean, it’s good, but bad, because, you know, people lost their lives,” Bengogullari fought to get these words out, with tears welling in his eyes.
The community has already shown its support for Bengogullari’s family, raising over $15,000 through cash donations, drop boxes, and the GoFundMe page. Bengogullari has been able to send up to $4,000 per week in aid, and he is more than appreciative. The names of each person and how much they have donated are handwritten, by a calligraphist, on multiple posters on the walls of Purple Onion Grill.
Through Sunday’s fundraiser as well as the GoFundMe page, Bengogullari hopes to raise $50,000 to send to the victims of the earthquake. 100% of the money collected during the meal fundraiser will be donated.