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Guest Blog: Nourishing International Friendships

Nov. 25 - Today's guest blog is by Naomi Walcott, who works in the Embassy's Economic Section. She writes about volunteering with Second Harvest Japan.


Food Banking and Volunteerism in Japan

That's me, second from left, helping prepare the Saturday meal with volunteers Seiji Ooka (left), Akira Serizawa, HeeJin Lee, and Second Harvest staff member Megumi Takahara (right).

During college, I spent two months working at a food pantry in Salt Lake City. It was an unforgettable summer during which I learned about the important contribution that food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens make to communities all over the United States.

Since that time, I've also had the opportunity to volunteer at food banks and soup kitchens in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts. So imagine how pleased I was to learn about Second Harvest Japan, which is Japan's first-ever food bank.

If you haven't heard of a food bank before, it provides food to people in need. Second Harvest Japan collects huge quantities of food per year (over 800 tons in 2010!) from retailers, food manufacturers, farmers, and individuals, and they redistribute it to orphanages, migrant workers, single parents, the unemployed, and others.

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and mother-in-law Marian Robinson help distribute Thanksgiving food items at Martha’s Table, a food pantry in Washington, D.C., Nov. 24, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This not only helps the recipients, but it also assists the donors to make good use of their high-quality surplus food. Since March 11, the organization has also delivered food and supplies to tsunami-affected areas in Tohoku.

Second Harvest Japan was founded in 2002 by an American who, along with a board of directors, a small staff, and hundreds of volunteers, has adapted the American model of food banking to the Japanese context. Volunteerism is an everyday aspect of American society, and it's exciting to see how Japan is embracing volunteerism as well.

In addition to food banking, Second Harvest Japan also operates a "soup kitchen" which serves a hot meal in Ueno Park every Saturday. One day per month, I volunteer helping to coordinate the team that prepares and serves the food in Ueno Park. We typically serve 400-600 people each Saturday.

One thing I really enjoy about the experience is working with a team of Japanese and non-Japanese volunteers. Not only do we have the opportunity to serve delicious food to people in need, but we have a chance to build relationships across languages and cultures. It's a great way to spend a Saturday - maybe you'd like to try it too?

To learn more about Second Harvest Japan, check the Web here (in English) or here (in Japanese).

Naomi Walcott

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