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

When the Kareesan family saw the tragedy that struck Turkey and Syria, they decided to do something about it.|

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

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

So, they started in their community.

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 started Wednesday. Past that date, people can drop off pennies at the Rincon Valley School Union School District office at 1000 Yulupa Ave. 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 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 at Rincon Valley Middle School. “It makes me feel good knowing I’m helping.”

This isn’t the first time the Kareesan family has pitched in to help 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 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 @searchingformya on Twitter.

Mya Constantino

General Assignment/Features Reporter

Stories can inspire you, make you laugh, cry and sometimes, heal. I love a feature story that can encapsulate all of those things. I cover the interesting people that exist around us, art and music that move us and the hidden gems that make Sonoma County pretty cool. Let's explore those things together.

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