More than 130 people opened their hearts and their wallets during an emotional fundraiser for the earthquake-devastated city of Bam at a jam-packed Santa Fe Bistro Sunday night.
The event, sponsored by Berkeley’s Persian Center, raised an astounding $70,000, which will go to create critically needed housing for as many as 70 Bam families.
During the event, Relief International President Dr. Farshad Rastergar announced that an anonymous donor put up $20,000 in matching funds to build housing. Those funds were quickly matched and then Persian Center Boardmember Shahin Tabrizi added another $5,000 to be matched.
Organizers asked for a minimum donation of $100 at the door, but to help meet the matching funds, many guests donated $1,000. David Behring, president of Wheelchair International, announced that his nonprofit organization is shipping to Iran four containers loaded with 280 wheelchairs each to help the thousands who were seriously injured.
“For a last minute event, the response has been overwhelming,” said Persian Center President Niloofar Nouri. “People were so moved, that the Santa Fe Bistro waiters and waitresses who volunteered their time at the event were writing checks along with the doctors and lawyers.”
Guests, many who broke into tears during a slide show that graphically depicted the devastation, were treated to dinner, which was co-sponsored by Berkeley developer Soheyl Modarressi in honor of his late father Seyed Hossein Modarressi and Sante Fe Bistro owner Ahmad Behjati.
The 6.7 earthquake struck the city shortly after 5 a.m. on Dec. 26, killing more than 35,000 people, injuring thousands more and leaving untold numbers homeless in the middle of a freezing cold winter. According to some estimates, nearly 70 percent of the city’s mostly mud-brick structures collapsed in the quake.
Several of the 18 Berkeley residents and city employees who traveled to Bam last April during a humanitarian mission for Wheelchair International, held back tears while they spoke of the overwhelming kindness of the Bam residents whose fates are now unknown.
There was the man who offered a ride to an American stranger who had just arrived at Bam’s bus depot, the school teacher who was eager to take time explaining the town’s remarkable history and the woman who served tea and date cookies to travelers in the city’s venerable 2,000-year-old citadel with its ancient parapets, corner towers and lancet windows.
Former Councilmember Polly Armstrong said she was amazed at how Bam teenagers were steeped in their country’s poetry and history as if those subjects were part of the landscape.
“It was amazing,” she said. “When was the last time you heard an American teenager recite a favorite poet?”
City of Berkeley information technology employee Dona LaSala remembered a young boy who was thrilled with the small gift of a post card “just because it was from an American.”
Berkeley Neighborhood Liaison Michael Caplan remembered the dozens of friendly children who ran up to the Americans to use their one English phrase, “Happy birthday!”
Later, during a slide show of the devastated and transformed city, many guests wiped away tears as they took in pictures of dust-covered old people staring incomprehensibly at the rubble, a man walking among the debris with a lifeless, mud-covered child draped over each shoulder and the dozens of canvas-wrapped bodies laid side by side in mass graves.
Nouri said the magnitude of the destruction will likely mean that relief efforts will be ongoing for at least the next year and perhaps longer. She said that a listing of upcoming fund raising events will be maintained on the Persian Center’s website, www.persiancenter.org.
The Persian Center is collecting new medical supplies and looking for volunteers. The center is located 2029 Durant St. For drop-off information, call 848-0264.
For information about donating money, blood or other supplies visit the National Iranian American Council at www.niacouncil.org/iranquake.asp or Relief International at www.ri.org.
Checks payable to “Iran Quake Relief/ Relief” can be mailed to: Relief International, 1575 Westwood Blvd. #201 Los Angeles, CA 90024. (800) 573-3332.