CITYWIDE — As news stations play and replay the catastrophic damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami that struck an unsuspecting Japan, the Santa Monica community has banded together to support those affected by the disaster both abroad and closer to home.
As of Thursday, nearly 10,000 people are thought to have died in the earthquake and tsunami, and the threat of nuclear melt down and contamination reached a high point with a surge in radiation levels from the power plants in the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, the Associated Press reported.
In Santa Monica, charitable organizations and private enterprises have begun collecting money to aid in the rescue effort.
Santa Monica’s Red Cross chapter has seen a flood of donations, said volunteer Jade Balfour.
Balfour, who works at the office on 11th Street, said that over 100 people have donated to the effort so far, with more coming in.
The organization will also be holding a “drive-through” event on Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the office’s parking lot, and the national group encourages donors to text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 gift.
The Red Cross has volunteers on the ground distributing relief supplies, getting hot meals to displaced survivors, clearing debris and providing medical transportation.
Joffe Emergency Services, a disaster preparedness company based in Santa Monica, is also collecting donations to send relief supplies to disaster victims.
The company is working with Los Angeles County and Los Angeles city firefighters who have been deployed to Japan to ensure that the right supplies reach the beleaguered nation.
“We’re getting ready to ship supplies, and are currently deciding what the most needed products will be,” said Chris Joffe.
Initial response materials would involve food, potable water and blankets to help those stranded without basic sustenance in freezing temperatures.
Follow-up materials would be supplies that would help the search and rescue effort, which usually gets underway in the days after a disaster strikes, Joffe said.
Those items include food and water as well as tools to begin the reconstruction efforts and refuse containers called honeybuckets to prevent further contamination of water through human waste.
“One of the biggest problems is contamination because people are, understandably, not thinking of the follow through on their actions,” Joffe said.
When they get word on what rescuers need, the company will begin raising money and requesting volunteers to help pack and ship the items to Japan.
Donations can be made by calling (310) 525-6333, ext. 1.
Even the arts are getting involved in the relief effort.
Ron Zheng, an artist of Chinese heritage born in Japan and educated in America, was with his family safely outside of Osaka when the disaster struck.
His show “First Time in Your Hometown: A Poetography Exhibit” will end on Sunday, March 20 at the James Gray Gallery in Bergamot Station, and Zheng has pledged to donate 20 percent of the sales of his artwork and books to help with relief efforts in Japan.
“I have been in Japan throughout this entire time and, although my family and I are fine, we have never before seen such misery in this country,” Zheng wrote in an e-mail. “As an artist, I would like to help, in some small way, those who are in this awful situation.”
As aid pours into Japan, many Japanese in America, or others with family in the country, find themselves in need of a different kind of support.
The constant barrage of images and information about the disaster has been difficult on many who find themselves unable to help, said Denise Kinsella, associate dean of international education at Santa Monica College.
“We’re seeing two real reactions,” Kinsella said. “One is despair, and the other is frustration that they’re here and family and friends are back home.”
The college has set up support groups, one this week with counselors and another next week with staff psychologists, to support students through the difficult time.
Another outlet has been another push toward fundraising, Kinsella said. Students will be on the Third Street Promenade on Saturday raising money to send to organizations helping in Japan.
“They’re desperate to do something right now,” Kinsella said. “It’s overwhelming for all of us to see the magnitude of what’s happening over there, we feel helpless.”
Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist association with a major presence in Santa Monica, is encouraging its members to send donations even as it reaches out to offer support to those separated from family and friends in Japan.
“It’s tough, wearing on people spiritually and emotionally,” said Bill Aitken, a spokesperson for the East Coast office.
The overwhelming feeling is one captured by a single Japanese phrase, Aitken said: gambaro, which means hang in there.