In the winter of 2011, the Fuel Relief Fund team responded to a major earthquake in Van, Turkey. Nearly a million people were left without power. Upon arrival, the Fuel Relief Fund team realized that many displaced families had access to coal burning stoves. Within two days of arriving, the team purchased 82 tons of coal and distributed it to those most in need: the elderly, poor, sick, and single mothers. Amongst the rubble and the snow, families created make-shift tents and huddled together to stay warm. These efforts helped survivors keep warm for a month while in temporary shelters, tents, and homes.

Children affected by the earthquake in Eastern Turkey, October 2011. Photo: Fuel Relief Fund

The last few days our volunteers were in Van, underscored the continued need to provide a source of warmth for the people in the area.

"The nights were bitter cold. The situation was so desperate that one night we encountered people who had taken the wood from their window frames to burn in order to stay warm. Sometimes we were out until 3 in the morning delivering coal. It was heartbreaking to see the living conditions for so many, but uplifting to see their faces and the outpouring of gratitude when they realized we were bringing them enough coal to warm their home or tent for a month."

We continued to distribute free fuel (coal) by coordinating with the non-profit organizer in the city of Van, along with the coal company, and a Turkish English teacher. Together we developed a plan to ensure that deliveries continue to those most in need – even after our response team returned from the distribution. After returning, Fuel Relief Fund oversaw the effort from our headquarters in Riverside, CA. The victims of the earthquake in Turkey had a long winter ahead of them and many would not have the means to stay warm and healthy – or even survive – without a source of fuel.

The FRF Response team purchased and delivered coal, sustained by donations from Lions Club Netherlands, Global Giving, and many other generous donors to fund this cause. This was a great step for Fuel Relief Fund as this is the first time that our mission to provide fuel continued after our staff has left a disaster zone.

The Vice Governor of Van, Mr. Atay Uslu, told Fuel Relief Fund volunteers, donors and the USA how much the coal deliveries meant to him and the people of Van. "Many people – an estimated 50% of the population – left this city that at one time housed around a million people to find warmth, jobs and a better life. Those left behind do not have the means to move and need our help. If people have enough coal to last at least a month, they will be able to spend more time focusing on other needs, and hopefully it will encourage people to stay and try to rebuild."

Fuel Relief Fund distribution in Van, Turkey, October 2011. Photo: Fuel Relief Fund

Fuel Relief Fund was referred to, in Van, as an International Aid non-profit agency. We were only 1 of 13 agencies from around the world that came to assist after the devastating quake. Our organization came a very long way in a short period of time! All board members, volunteers, and donors should be proud to be an important component of our charity. We are grateful to serve together with the people of Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Haiti, Japan and now Turkey, after these major disasters – and we are grateful to the support of donors in making this relief possible.

We especially want to thank GlobalGiving and the Lions Club of the Netherlands for their generous donations and assistance.