Lending a Hand

Lending a Hand

Local charity Second Harvest Japan has been helping survivors of this year’s Kumamoto earthquake, thanks, in part, to the Club.

Charles McJilton delivers his tour of the Second Harvest Japan headquarters like a whirling dervish.

The founder and CEO of Japan’s first and largest food bank starts in the main office, which opened in 2003 underneath the Sobu Line train tracks in Asakusabashi, and hustles downstairs, passing neatly stacked boxes destined for Kumamoto.

He crosses the street to the organization’s kitchen, where 14 volunteers and staff cheerily prepare 300 boxed meals for the homeless in Ueno Park. More than 100 volunteers work in the kitchen each week. Last year alone, they assembled around 4 million meals. McJilton says the nonprofit plans to build a new kitchen for preparing meals for after-school programs.

“Our organization comes down to four simple words: people have enough food,” says McJilton, 52. “When we can accomplish that, then we can shut off the lights and say we’ve done well.”

McJilton didn’t set out to build a disaster-relief organization, yet Second Harvest volunteers were among the first to arrive in Tohoku following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In the first year after the catastrophe, they delivered 1,000 tons of supplies and 13,000 relief packages. After the Kumamoto area quake in April, McJilton
drove for 15 hours straight to assist the more than 3,000 families who had lost their homes.

“One of the key things we learned from Tohoku is to first assess what the needs are, establish a good relationship with the government and find out how we can work with them,” says McJilton, who received the Club’s 2011 Distinguished Achievement Award. “The support we received from the Women’s Group and other companies allowed us to actually make a plan that is going to last us through the end of the year.”

The Women’s Group donated ¥2 million to Second Harvest for its Kumamoto relief efforts, while the Club’s relief fund garnered an additional ¥1.2 million. Proceeds from next month’s International Bazaar will also be donated to the food bank and other charities.

With the Club’s support, Second Harvest Japan was able to erect a temporary warehouse in Kumamoto and hire on-site staff. Among future projects planned, McJilton says, is the supply of rice vouchers for the local populace.

Sitting at a conference table in Second Harvest’s newest third-floor office, McJilton calls Akira Kawada, his Kumamoto operations manager, and puts him on speakerphone. Kawada is out delivering food to one of the 800 families still living in temporary housing. His cell phone connection cuts in and out, as grateful recipients can be heard thanking him in the background.

“Our major goal is by 2020 to have a food safety net,” says McJilton, picking up a jar of beans to illustrate the amount of surplus food available in Japan. “We envision a society where people don’t need a food bank. But it’s peace of mind knowing that no one has to go to bed hungry tonight.”

Words: Nick Narigon
Image: Kohji Shiiki