ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Bob Erbetta and Rosaleen Doherty of the Marblehead Rotary pack supplies for refugee camps in Turkey and Syria.
By GAYLA CAWLEY
MARBLEHEAD — The Rotary Club of Marblehead Harbor is working to help Syrian refugees.
Starting today, the Rotary Club, in coordination with SPUR, a Marblehead-based organization, is collecting supplies through the end of the month to fill a shipping container to help refugees in Syria.
The club is working with NuDay Syria, a nonprofit that works to alleviate the suffering and displacement in Syria. Each month, NuDay sends supplies through an established transportation network to refugee camps in Turkey and Syria. The organization is particularly focused on Syrian women and girls, who are often overlooked and have few skills and little experience providing for their families, according to information from the Rotary Club.
Although organizers say the fundraiser has been in the works for months, the effort has become more timely in light of President Donald Trump’s recent Executive Order, temporarily banning refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries, including Syria.
“I can see what the president wanted to do,” said Robert Erbetta, Rotary Club member and one of the leaders for the collection effort. “I can’t fault him for wanting the country to be more secure.”
Erbetta said it’s a timeout until the country has a better vetting process. He said the feeling of club members is that they’d like to help the people in Syria and the Middle East by sending supplies. Some of those people have nothing, he said.
Rosaleen Doherty, service committee chairwoman for the Rotary Club, said there’s been Rotary interest in helping Syrian refugees for almost a year. She said the challenge was figuring out how to get the supplies from the U.S. to Syria. Then, she learned about NuDay Syria and about how they could get the needed items to refugee camps.
Doherty said the goal is to collect 800 boxes of supplies, which would fill a shipping container. Volunteers with Rotary and SPUR would collect and sort the items, before the supplies are sent to NuDay Syria, which is then responsible for getting them to the refugees.
“As citizens, we have the power to help no matter what the administration is doing,” Doherty said. “We talked about the Syrian refugee crisis last year and we didn’t really know what we could do to help … What we can do is send our stuff there. We’re Americans. We have mountains of it. I can’t think of a better use for it.
“We think with the Syrian refugees is that the suffering these people are going through is beyond our comprehension,” she continued. “We have the ability and channel to help.”
Heidi Whear, co-chairperson of the club’s collection project, said she’s been extremely passionate about what’s going on in Syria for awhile.
“Honestly, we’ve had this planned for numerous months,” said Whear. “It’s kind of timely that all of this is happening. I think it’s necessary regardless of what Trump is saying.”
Whear said the most tragic thing from the travel ban is the stories about families who left Syria and came to the U.S. with the expectation that the rest of their family would be joining them eventually. Now, they won’t be allowed in, she said.
“It’s tragic,” she said. “It’s devastating. Hopefully things will get turned around.”
Supplies that are needed are new or like-new clothing for adult women and men, children and infants; hats, gloves, mittens, shoes, bags and purses; bedding, soccer balls, stuffed animals, crayons, pencils and non-battery toys. Items also needed include diapers, female hygiene supplies, soap bars, powdered detergent, toothbrushes, over-the-counter medication, vitamins, wheelchairs and walkers.
The Rotary Clubs ask that wheelchairs and walkers be dropped off at The First Church Swampscott Congregational, 40 Monument Ave., between 10 a.m. and noon weekdays.
For other donated items, collection boxes are set up in Marblehead at the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA, 40 Leggs Hill Road; 5 Trager Road; National Grand Bank, 91 Pleasant St.; St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 135 Lafayette St.; and Marblehead Community Center, 10 Humphrey St. In Swampscott, boxes are located at Atlantic Hearing Care, Inc., Suite 1G, 900 Paradise Road and Eastern Bank, 405 Paradise Road. Boxes are also at three Right at Home Senior Care locations — third floor at 19 Front St. in Salem, 350 Main St. in Haverhill at the back entrance and 120 Middlesex Ave. in Somerville.
The Rotary Club of Marblehead Harbor and SPUR websites will be updated regularly with new donation drop-off locations. Volunteers are needed. For questions about donations, contact Doherty at Right at Home Senior Care at 978-234-0672 or 978-744-5151.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.