Local Peruvians chip in to help earthquake victims

Times Staff Writer

After a massive earthquake rocked Peru’s Pacific coast this week, restaurant owner Victor Escobar knew he had to act.

Hundreds had lost their lives. Thousands had lost their homes. His own father lived near the epicenter and had narrowly escaped injury.

Escobar, whose family owns the restaurant chain El Pollo Inka, decided to donate $10,000 to the relief effort. He also plans to give 10% of the proceeds over the next two weeks from the chain’s four Southern California locations.


“There are people in need,” Escobar said as he led a lunchtime crowd of customers in Gardena to their tables Friday. “I needed to lead by example, that other Peruvians need to do the same thing for this cause.”

As they watch the death toll rise, Peruvians throughout the region are donating money, clothing and medical supplies to the relief effort. The response highlights how connected Peruvian immigrants are with their native country -- regardless of how long they have been in the United States.

The 8.0 magnitude earthquake was centered off the coast south of Lima.

Many residents in the cities of Pisco, Ica and Chincha are still waiting for water, food and medical aid.

At least one local fundraising group -- Peruanitos Foundation -- sent supplies Friday to help residents devastated by the temblor. Others are planning shipments in coming days.

Kenneth MacKenzie arrived in the U.S. in 1962 but still has strong roots in Peru. From noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, MacKenzie will collect new blankets at his nightclub, Florentine Gardens. Next Sunday, he plans to hold a concert and fundraiser at the Hollywood club.

“My country is in trouble, so it’s my duty to help,” he said.

Another Peruvian, landscape company owner Hernan Oscco, is rounding up supplies and medicine at a warehouse in Azusa. The Peruvian Consulate provided a wish list, including tents, sleeping bags, water bottles, collapsible beds and clothing.


“We are concentrating on anything that will keep our people warm,” said Maria Pollack, 66, a volunteer who spent the night at the donation center and was waiting for donations Friday.

Pollack said she had received dozens of calls from around the country with offers to contribute. Seeing the destruction in her native country is difficult, but she said she would feel worse if she wasn’t helping in some way.

“They lost everything,” she said. “I have to reach out.”

Gabriel Pacheco, Peru’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles, said he wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of support.

“Peruvians always unify with a tragedy,” he said. “That’s the mentality.”

The consulate and the Assn. of Peruvian Institutions of the U.S. and Canada have set up bank accounts to accept financial contributions.

In previous national emergencies, the association has helped construct a medical center, rebuild a school and a church and contributed funds. Now it is trying to organize a shipment of medicines, said Oscar Donoso, Southern California chapter president.

Like many Peruvian immigrants here, Donoso still has family back home and is trying to make sure they are OK.

His uncle, who lives in Ica, survived the earthquake, but Donoso said there were three relatives still unaccounted for.

The help isn’t just coming from Peruvians. A medical team from Relief International, based in Westwood, plans to leave today to help treat the injured.

At El Pollo Inka on Friday, several Peruvians said they were keeping in close touch with relatives and wished they could do more to help.

Restaurant maintenance employee Juan Oaechea didn’t know for several hours that his wife and two sons were OK. Oaechea said he planned to donate, even if it wasn’t much.

“More than anything, it’s the question of humanity -- to try to help my compatriots,” he said.

One of the waiters, Alberto Villamizar, said he could not get the images of the rubble and the bodies out of his mind.

“In my heart I am very sad,” he said. “I feel impotent. What else can I do?”


How to help

Earthquake relief donations can be made through a Bank of America account opened by the Peruvian Consulate of Los Angeles, number 226000249603, or through a Washington Mutual account opened by the Assn. of Peruvian Institutions of the United States of America and Canada, number 3094662208.