Although it occurred more than 7,400 miles away, the effects of a massive blast blamed on an ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut is being felt hard in Pasadena.
Pasadena’s Lebanese and Armenian communities are rallying to help in any way they can, as the Aug. 4 explosion was believed to have left at least 160 people dead, 6,000 people injured and an estimated 300,000 people homeless, according to the Associated Press.
Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek said many local residents are in mourning.
“While it may seem really remote from Pasadena, it’s having a very significant impact on people in our community,” he said. “I really want to convey my condolences and my prayers to the members of the Pasadena Lebanese and Armenian communities who have suffered losses as a result of this terrible event.”
“They have got brothers and sisters and cousins and relatives that have been killed and have been made homeless. And whose homes have been destroyed and businesses have been destroyed. This is a terrible catastrophic event,” Tornek said. “I’m getting stories about people who have been impacted. It’s shocking.”
Tamar Orichian, who serves as chair of the Armenian Relief Society – Sosse Chapter in Pasadena, as well as treasurer for the ARS of Western USA, said many local families are affected, and the organization was doing all it could to help.
“All of us have friends and family in Lebanon,” she said.
The 110-year-old international humanitarian organization has a footprint in 27 countries, including Lebanon, Orichian said.
The ARS immediately opened the doors to its medical center and clinic to care for the injured. “They have helped almost 500 wounded patients,” Orichian said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made fundraising more challenging than usual, but the effort to raise money to help with the devastation in Beirut continues in earnest at local, regional, national and global levels.
“Each chapter, on their own, is collecting donations and doing different things,” Orichian said. “We’re making and selling food. With that profit, so far we have contributed $3,000.”
A new menu featuring traditional Armenian dishes is posted each week on the ARS – Sosse Chapter’s Facebook page at facebook.com/ARSSosse, she explained. Guests may then place their orders via text message, pay via the Venmo app and pick their orders up between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursdays at the Pasadena Armenian Center, 2242 E. Foothill Blvd. More information is available on the organization’s Facebook page.
A car wash fundraiser was also planned at the Pasadena Armenian Center at 11 a.m. Sunday, where food will also be available for purchase, according to the ARS.
The ARS of Western USA has raised more than $50,000 from its 24 member chapters, and is working on raising another %50,000, according to Orichian. The national branch, known as ARS Central, has collected more than $245,000 for Beirut relief.
In addition to those dealing with injuries or the deaths of loved ones, ARS is working to provide food to the hundreds of thousands of newly homeless Beirut residents.
“In the last three days, they have fed almost 3,000 people,” Orichian said. “And they still continue doing that.”
All services are provided free of charge, and the funds are sent directly to those in need, Orichian said. “Our motto is: For the people, with the people.”
But more help is badly needed, she said.
“We are hoping we can reach out not only to the Armenian community in Pasadena, but everyone in Pasadena, to come together,” she said. At the same time, the relief effort was targeted at “everybody in Lebanon,” and not only Armenian communities.”
Orichian said she urged everyone to help “as much as they can.”
Even before the explosion the country was already experiencing difficulties, ranging from economic strife to internal divisions, he said. “This, on top of it all, is really unbelievable.”
Losses due to the explosion in Lebanon’s capital city have been estimated at between $10 billion and $15 billion, the AP reported.
Lebanon Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet announced their resignations on Monday, according to the AP.
Donations for disaster relief in Beirut via ARS can be made through the organization’s website at arswestusa.org, or via the ARS – Sosse Chapter’s Venmo account: @ARS-Sosse.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the ARS-Sosse Chapter and incorrectly described the position of Tamar Orichian within the organization.