RIDGEWOOD, N.J. -- What began as a simple effort to help Syrian refugees in Turkey by a caring Ridgewood teen, ended on Tuesday with a trip to Istanbul to deliver five suitcases full of warm coats, sweaters, and boots directly to the struggling people.
Derya Ekin 15, a student at Ridgewood High School, started the drive for warm clothes after seeing the refugees in Turkey, which her family visits each year.
"I began to see Syrian children and families scattered throughout Istanbul. Seeing this while we were vacationing in our privileged world really shattered me and made me want to do something about this problem," the sophomore said.
The teen said she saw so many innocent children facing starvation and begging on the streets along with countless mothers and fathers struggling to provide for their children let alone themselves.
"I realized that even though I was isolated from the problem far away in New Jersey, I knew there was a way to reach out and help these people. I decided that the best way to do so would be to gather clothing and deliver it first hand," she added.
After returning home, Derya asked her mother, Deniz Ekin, to help by posting a call for warm clothing on the Ridgewood Mom's and Dad's Facebook page.
Before long, their Ridgewood home was overrun with coats; sweaters, boots, and more.
"So many eager Ridgewood citizens lent a hand and donated bags full of clothing and boots that they dropped off at our house," Derya said. "One resident in particular even gave a check to pay for any excess luggage. To see such a drive from fellow Ridgewood citizens to help was extremely encouraging to me and strengthened our cause greatly."
On Tuesday, Dec. 27, Derya's dream of helping the refugees came true when she, her mother, and little brother Emre Ekin, made the two-hour drive to Okmeydan in Istanbul.
"It took us longer than expected to get there due to the traffic. In the midst of all of the bustling cars and citizens crowding up the sidewalks, we came across a narrow forgotten road where our GPS told us to stop," she said. "The man in charge of the community center helped us unload our five suitcases full of clothing and boots that were to be given to the Syrian refugees residing in Istanbul."
Talking to the women and children in the community center and discovering their personal stories was eye opening for the entire family.
"It was an amazing feeling having the chance to see kids' faces light up upon receiving a new winter coat or a fuzzy North Face hat or some warm Uggs that could keep them warm all throughout the winter," she said.
Thanks, she said, to an entire community effort.