We began our assistance to Okinawa in July 2020, in response to the COVID19 pandemic. A large financial institution made a significant donation in May asking where the greatest need was. We knew Okinawa had the highest poverty rate at 30%. I traveled to Okinawa in June to determine if the support from governed agencies, faith-based groups, and NPOs. Based on that trip we made a 3-month commitment: July, August, and September. But the end of our second trip we could see great the demand was extended this until the end of 2020.
In our first distribution in July 2020, we reached just 800 households over three days. By the end of December we had reached 10,000 through our monthly distributions. In 2021 this total number was pushed to 35,740 households. Moreover, in December 2021, we reached 10,000 over six days. We continued our work through 2022, and in the second half the year focused on deep assistance to a limited number of households. Our final tally at the end of December 2023, was 56,980 households served.
This could only have been accomplished with the assistance and collaboration of many partners, particularly the LDS Church in Okinawa and Food Bank Okinawa.
Will continue our work in Okinawa but in a slightly different approach. We appreciate your support.
While we have been able to reach large numbers of households throughout Okinawa Prefecture in our monthly distributions (reaching 10,000 in December, 2021), we wanted to determine the impact of our support. Was the support we were providing meaningful and helpful? To what degree did our support help lessen the financial burdens they faced? Considering our resources, what impact could we expect to have?
We launched a pilot project in April that that enrolled 500 households in four different cities throughout Okinawa. We collected data on each household such as number of adults, children, ages, and gender. And at each of our monthly distributions we asked three simple questions:
The last question was important to us to understand the financial impact our food support may have on a household. For example, a single-mother who receives a good deal of snacks and drinks may say she is very grateful for these things because she normally cannot purchase them. However, in reality this would have very little impact on our household budget as she normally does not purchase them.
The first stage of the pilot project will be completed at the end of September at which time we will consider next steps.
We are super excited to begin a 6-month pilot project in Okinawa City this month. The goal of this project is counterintuitive, but reflects our core values. We are going to demonstrate that our current level of food assistance does not have meaningful impact on households or communities we serve in Okinawa Prefecture. While data exists concerning relative poverty in Japan, there is no comprehensive data on who is food insecure or even the impact food assistance, which means the extent of the problem and current responses are not clear to stakeholders. We are focused on food insecurity in Okinawa Prefecture because the relative poverty rate of 30% is nearly twice the national average.
This counter-intuitive approach represents a core value we have of critically assessing our work and its impact. While it is true we are able to reach 10,000 households in six days as we did in December 2021, we cannot say this support had meaningful impact. Yes, we have loads of letters and messages from recipient households thanking us for our support. However, this is not the same as having meaningful impact. This is what we are committed to determining: “What level of assistance is necessary for it to be truly meaningful?”
This is a challenging project because it means finding households willing to participate but also collecting useful data. This is just the first phase of an 18-month project that will eventually reach 3,000 households.
I am currently in Okinawa for our monthly distribution.
We set an ambitious goal of reaching 10,000 households over six days!!! This is more than 3x what we normally do at our monthly distributions.
To reach this ambitious goal we are trying something new. Using the idea of yui maru (Okinawan for mutal help), we are offering each household that registers to pick up a box of food to register for an additional box they will then distribute to a family in their network.
This afternoon kicked off the first distribution and to my surprise, not every household took an extra box. Far from disappointing I was actually impressed. You see, many people told us that people here will simply take an extra box and not give to another family. Sure, at this point we do not know if those who took an extra box today will actually deliver the second box, but we know there were a good number of people who simply took only what they could use even though they could have take an extra box for their own family.
This does not surprise me that people demonstrated integrity. Today, as in previous distributions, close to 90% of recipients brought food to donate. In my more than 20 years of doing this, I have never heard of a food drive being conducted at a food distribution. But it is being done here in Okinawa in a prefrecture with more than 30% poverty rate.
In future reports I will share with you the results of our project this month. It is ambitious but if successful it brings us one step closer to creating a people-center food safety-net.
We wish you all the best this holiday season.
In spite of the state of emergency declared in Tokyo and other prefectures such as Okinawa, the Tokyo2020 Olympics were held. While the border has been closed since last year, athletes and their supporters arrived in Japan for the sporting event. Medical workers and others had predicted a dramatic increase and it seems their predictions have come true as Tokyo continues to register more than 5,000 new cases each day. Okinawa, where our work is focused, saw more than 60 COVID-related deaths in one hospital.
We continue our work and will have served 20,000 households at the end of next distributions August 28th and 29th. We continue to be surprised at how quickly distribution sites get filled up with reservations. In some cases it is a matter of hours before all pickup slots are fully booked.
In July we completely shifted to “drive-thru” distribution. Recipients stayin their vehicles at all times and we do all intake and distribution of food without having to come in contact with recipients. We all agree it is not the ideal situation. Last year we had hoped by this time to have created communities among recipients where they run the distributions and share what they believe would work in order to make a food safety-net possible. But with strict protocols in place, gathering people together to talk and share is simply impossible.
On a positive note, we continue to hold our food drives at our distributions and close to 90% of people bring something. This is very encouraging as it shows the spirit of yui maru (“mutual assistance” in Okinawan) is alive and well.
One last positive report. We conducted the first "backpack" program at a middle in school in Nanjo which is south of Naha. We had met the principle in July and he quickly saw the opportunity for us to provide food assistance to all 400 students as the started summer holidays in August. This was an incredible action on the part of this principal to take action so swiftly.
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