Community Fundraising in Los Angeles: Even Non-Armenians Are Coming Together to Help Artsakh

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LOS ANGELES – It is only 4 p.m.  but the Gevorgyan family barbecue stand on Foothill Boulevard in Tujunga, California, sold out all the food they made for today. This is one of the many charity events organized by Armenian Americans to support people in Artsakh and Armenia, who are struggling with the immediate consequences of the war started by Azerbaijan on September 27.

The Gevorgyan family

Tony and Tigran Gevorgyan, respectively a student at Glendale Community College and a recent graduate of the University of Irvine, California, came up with the idea of selling Armenian-style barbecue and kabob made with their mom’s recipe, keeping it a secret from their parents. Everything was set up when the boys introduced the project to Louisa and Arsen.

The Gevorgyan barbecue stand

“But we are Armenians, we have to interfere. We are helping the kids with the preparation, cooking and simple advice,” smiles Louisa as she says, “and besides, this helps me to distract myself a little from the horrible stories that we hear from Artsakh. At least this way we can help our brothers and sisters.”

The customers are mostly Armenians. Most of them return after the first time. “The encouragement is huge. It makes us go on,” says Tony.

During these three weeks, the Gevorgyan family is living on a new daily schedule. After work and on the weekends, the whole family is cooking and selling barbecue. After finishing the fundraiser, in the evening, the boys join thousands of their compatriots in the marches and protests in different parts of Los Angeles, while their parents stay home to prepare the food for the next day. All proceeds go to the Armenia Fund (Hayastan All Armenian Fund).

Sister’s Place

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Karine Vardan united forces with the photographer Lilit Mansuryan to gather different venders of art works, handcraft ornaments, jewelries, clothes, food and Armenian pastries for a fundraiser in Sister’s Place, a cozy, hidden garden in Glendale. Sister’s Place is named for Karine’s four daughters, one of whom left for Armenia when the war just started.

Shahen and Karine Vardan, the owners of Sister’s Place

“The fourth day of the war, Inessa told me that she bought a ticket to Armenia. I couldn’t even oppose her. She didn’t let me. She told me, ‘Mom, how can I not be in Armenia now, when you yourself nurtured us this way?’ I was terrified, especially in the beginning, when Azerbaijanis were  attacking Vardenis [a city in the Republic of Armenia], but I couldn’t say anything. She had made up her mind,” Karine said.

Sister’s Place

With tears and pride in her eyes, Karine sat down to rest after sleepless nights of organizing. From the beginning of the diaspora’s movement in Los Angeles, Karine was present in every demonstration and march, candlelight and prayer ceremony. This unprecedented unity of the Armenians inspired many non-Armenians as well.

YWCA Glendale

“Just seeing how the Armenian community responded to this crisis is amazing: the amount of resources that are being used, how people are coming together! We want to take of some of that stress and find even a small way in which we can be part of this as well,” says Tara Peterson, the CEO of YWCA Glendale, who organized a Community Solidarity Drive for women shelters in Armenia.

YWCA had been working with the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia previously. Seeing that the center is collecting items for women and children, Tara and her team decided that it would be a perfect partnership to help them.

“Every time when there is a war, women and children are the ones who are getting harmed the most. It’s important to all women, regardless where you come from and what your background is, to really understand the impact that it can have on somebody’s life and the trauma that is ongoing. As a woman it’s very painful to think that we are putting women and children in a position like that, and they can’t get the support they need,” says Tara.

Community Pulling Together

Garage sales, restaurant fundraisers, art projects, single donations and even lemonade stand sales: the entire Armenian-American community, all over the US, is using its talent and energy to help Armenia and Artsakh. Earlier in October the Consulate General of Armenia in Los Angeles and the Pan-Armenian Council of [the] Western USA announced that $3,239,500 was raised during an event held in the consulate.

After collecting over 140 million dollars, the Hayastan All Armenian Fund launched an initiative of 50+ calling on everyone to pledge a monthly donation of $50 or more to the fund. For over a month now, it seems that nearly all Armenians, without any hesitation, became contributors of the All Armenian Fund in one way or another. Establishing faith and trust again in the diaspora toward Armenian institutions is perhaps an even more important achievement than the amount of money itself — when even a little boy is willing to donate his entire piggy bank to the fund.

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