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Nonprofit Groups Active in Food Bank Program

June 16, 2008

By Junko Suzuki, Kyodo News International, Tokyo

Jun. 16–TOKYO — Some Japanese nonprofit organizations are actively following in the footsteps of their U.S. counterparts by promoting a “food bank” program in Japan.

The food bank program involves volunteers asking food makers and retailers to donate food which they cannot sell because the packages are soiled, and distributing the food to child protection centers and welfare facilities. The program has gained a strong foothold in the United States and is now spreading in Japan.

Food Bank Kansai, an NPO entity in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, is active in the food bank program in the Osaka and Kobe regions. Using its own vehicles, its 27 volunteers take turns delivering food to child protection facilities and homes for physically disabled people.

Initially, Food Bank Kansai handled food donated by foreign-affiliated companies that are familiar with food bank activities. But later, it sent letters to food manufacturers in the Kansai region explaining the purpose of its program.

It currently receives food from eight companies and one organization, and distributes them to 31 groups.

Japan Food Service of Nishinomiya, Hyogo, which imports and sells processed chicken, is one of the donors. A company official explains that a portion of the imported chicken must be defrosted to undergo a quarantine inspection, but cannot then be marketed.

He says the company decided to give the meat to the NPO group so it can be put to good use, instead of throwing it away.

Many welfare facilities are having a hard time trying to manage food expenses. Kamagasaki Shien Kiko, an NPO in Osaka City’s Kamagasaki district, supports homeless people and says donations of food on a regular basis help it a great deal.

Megumi Asaba of Food Bank Kansai said, “Mutual trust is necessary in order to continue the activities. There are still many facilities that need assistance. We focus our sights on local consumption of redundant products in areas where they are produced, rather than expanding the areas of our activities.” NPO Second Harvest Japan is active in the Tokyo metropolitan area with American Charles McJilton at the core of its program. It gets cooperation from 40 companies and regularly delivers food to 60 facilities.

An official of Nichirei Corp., a major frozen-food company, says, “In the past, we couldn’t sell merchandise if part of the crate (containing the food products) was damaged while it was being ferried. We used it as feed and fertilizer.” Nichirei has been donating food to Second Harvest since 2005.

Now, it also uses its own distribution network to deliver food directly to welfare facilities.

Seaweed store Yamagataya Noriten Co., which began giving dried pressed seaweed to welfare and other facilities last year, assigned new recruits this year to the task of preparing hot meals as part of their job training.

A company official says the job training provides the rookies a good opportunity to be food company employees and to appreciate the importance of food, adding that Yamagataya will extend its cooperation to Second Harvest within the scope of its ability.

Second Harvest plans to hold courses at various locations beginning this summer to offer the expertise it has accumulated so far.

Secretary General Yusuke Wada says, “We hope that food bank activities will take root in Japan by increasing the number of people serving as a bridge between corporations and facilities in various parts of the country.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, Kyodo News International, Tokyo

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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