Homer activist hopes to expand aid kitchens to Turkey following devastating earthquakes
Homer resident Lucas Wilcox was traveling on a train between the Ukrainian war zone and Turkey Wednesday night, switching gears from providing food relief to refugees of the Ukrainian war to feeding survivors of the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks that devastated Turkey and Syria earlier this month.
“I'm trying to help provide basic necessities in the points of greatest need in the world as they arise,” Wilcox said.
The earthquakes have killed nearly 50,000 people across Turkey and Syria. It’s become one of the deadliest natural disasters of the century. Given the devastation, Wilcox is planning to begin operations for a commercial kitchen to provide meals for the many people impacted.
“This kitchen is a really high volume kitchen and serves a lot of food and water,” he said. “So it's most effective in places where there's the greatest need and it’s able to be the most impactful.”
Wilcox grew up in Homer, and is the founder of a nonprofit called Altruist Relief Kitchen. The humanitarian aid organization works with displaced peoples, from survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and refugees on the border in Tijuana, to Syrian refugees in Lesvos — a Greek island off the coast of Turkey — and other groups affected by natural disasters.
Most recently, he’s been building large off-grid kitchens to feed Ukrainian refugees amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I just left the epicenter of the earthquake, just hours ago, and I'm on my way back to Ukraine, where we have a kitchen set up and operational,” Wilcox told KBBI Wednesday night, while on board a train in Poland. “We got a big bulk food donation from another NGO, and so we're going to serve as much food as we can through the anniversary of the beginning of the war.”
Wilcox and his teams build large 1,300-square-foot woodfired field kitchens that he said can serve up to 500 meals an hour.
“These kitchens can be set up in remote or devastated locations that other organizations aren't able to get into,” he said. “Then we can serve food and purify water for a long period of time just on the available resources.”
Wilcox said he was already on his way to Gaziantep, Turkey with his teenage daughter when the first massive earthquake hit the city on Feb. 6.
“The entire city of Gaziantep was from end-to-end covered in makeshift blue tarp penthouses with smokestacks sticking out of them and entire families inside,” he said. “Many people lost their homes on the same day, and many more just don't trust their homes after so many fell down. So they opted to make themselves makeshift blue tarp penthouses in all of the parks and common areas of the city. So it was quite a sight to see so many people that had made these temporary structures for their families all in a matter of a day or two.”
He said he was able to begin preparation for setting up the kitchen within just a couple of hours after the earthquake hit.
“There was a lot of information to gather,” Wilcox said. “Because the affected area was the size of England, I needed to ascertain exactly where the kitchen should be manufactured and where it could be set up that would be most helpful, but also that it would have access to firewood and water and things of that nature. So it took a few days to figure out all of those details.”
For the first kitchen, he settled on the mountain community of Islahiye, about 50 miles west of the earthquake’s epicenter.
“It was a city that was just absolutely decimated,” Wilcox said. “Almost all of the buildings were either severely affected or destroyed in the event. And people left who were able to leave, but there are still so many families there in that community that are trying to regain some part of their life,” Wilcox said. “So in setting up this kitchen there to provide food and fresh water, it alleviates that burden on them, as they rebuild their lives.”
Wilcox said the cost of the new kitchen build is about $8,000, and he’s fundraising to get it up and running.
“After this first kitchen is built, we need to maintain it,” he said. “We pay the refugees or residents of the affected areas a small stipend to be able to run the kitchens. That helps them to survive the event. And we have to buy food and supplies and then hopefully, be able to set up another one in a nearby community in the summer.”
His goal is to build up operations and staff so that the kitchen can sustain itself and eventually be run by local Turkish residents. He appealed directly to the Homer community to help make that happen.
“It creates this kind of amplifying effect in the world to help so many people in such a difficult situation [and] has reverberations for many years to come,” Wilcox said. “And the kind of community that Homer is, to be able to come together and create these kinds of impacts, it's really life changing and world changing.”
There’s a soup lunch fundraiser scheduled for Friday, Feb. 24 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Homer United Methodist Church. Proceeds will go toward building the woodfired field kitchen in Islahiye.
To find out more about Altruist Relief Kitchen’s work in Turkey, visit their website.