Update: February 8, 1:20 p.m. – The fundraiser reached $92,108 according to the campaign page on LaunchGood.com.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Knoxville restaurant owner has raised over double his original goal to provide emergency support to those in Turkey and Syria who were affected by the deadly earthquake that struck early Monday.
Yassin Terou, owner of Yassin’s Falafel House, is working to help provide food and medical relief for those who were affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck his home country of Syria. He received a call Monday night from his brother, who was less than an hour from where the center of the earthquake happened.
“I got a call in the middle of the night at 10 p.m. from my brother telling me he’s scared for his life. He just tried to collect his kids with him, get his wife out of the building from waking up. It’s 10 p.m. for us, but it’s probably 6 a.m. for him, or 4 a.m.” Terou said.
He explained that his brother woke up from the movement of the ground, and while his brother is far away, at least he and his two children are alive and safe. Now, remembering the tornado that happened in Nashville in 2020 and the 2016 wildfires in the Smokie Mountains, Terou said his next question was how he could help.
“This is all the sadness and all the people in [the] street, it’s like ‘How we can help them? What the next step?’ So that when I… I start thinking it’s like ‘Oh, I’m not going to help him only because he’s my family. I’m going to help, we gonna help everybody we can.” Terou said.
He explained that while the situation in where his brother is bad, with people struggling to find food and gas, and some are still trapped under buildings, across the border in Syria, it is much worse.
“As a proud American citizen, as a proud member of the Volunteer State of Tennessee, we learned how to help. We know how to stand up. I start a campaign with a great non-profits Celebrate Mercy and SRD (Syria Relief and Development). SRD, they have a work in the U.S. and in Turkey on the ground. They already have a team who are gonna help us.
Terou started the campaign to raise money a soup kitchen and medical relief. Terou said the initial goal of the fundraiser was $20,000 in by February 16 was reached in under 10 hours. In less than 24 hours the fundraiser reached $40,000, Terou shared on social media Tuesday. At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the campaign housed on launchgood.com was working toward a goal of $60,000 with over $47,000 raised.
The efforts to provide relief have deeper ties than Terou. Celebrate Mercy, which is a national organization, was founded by a Knoxville native, Tarek El-Messidi. El-Messidi explained that Terou’s partnership with Celebrate Mercy on this effort started because of his Knoxville roots.
“Because he does a lot of this community work and he himself, as a Syrian refugee, this was just the perfect fit with the campaigns that we have done and also the relief work that he’s done and him actually having a brother on the ground in Turkey that was displaced by as a result of this earthquake.” El-Messidi said. “There’s a severe cold front going on right now in Turkey um, and a lot of people are hungry, a lot of people are cold. A lot of people are homeless, so this just seemed like a perfect fit and collaboration.”
Not only is Terou raising money. He’s planning to go and help himself.
“I’m gonna cover all my costs. I’m gonna be volunteer. I’m not going to use this money to cover my… my trouble or my staying or anything. All this will be covered by us.” Terou said. “With all this non-profit organization helping us, I think we gonna do great and we gonna show the people some love. We gonna show the people some bridges of love. We gonna show the people love [is] what will make our world better, not war. Not problem.”
To learn more about the campaign or to donate, click here.
According to the Associated Press, the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria killed over 4,000 people and toppled thousands of buildings. Tens of thousands were left homeless in both Turkey and Syria, and hundreds of families remained trapped in the rubble, AP said.
Terou and his family fled Syria in 2011. He sold sandwiches outside a local mosque before opening his first restaurant in 2014 and a second in West Knoxville in 2017. A third location opened in Alcoa last year.
Terou and his restaurants have maintained a strong philanthropic presence in the community. He’s held fundraisers for Bridge Refugee Services, tornado victims in Nashville and the Knoxville Public Safety Foundation after a Knoxville Police Officer was attacked while on-duty. He has given free meals to those fleeing North Carolina Hurricane Florence and furloughed federal workers. His efforts earned his restaurant the title of ‘Nicest Place in America’ in 2018.
Editors Note: This story has been updated with new information
Update: February 7, 7:35 p.m. – The fundraiser reached $51,928 according to the campaign page on LaunchGood.com.