Recently, the relative poverty rate for children in Japan is rising, and of the 34 members of OECD (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Japan ranks 10th, which is higher than the OECD average. The relative rate of poverty among children being raised in single-parent homes is the highest among all members (according to the data for 2014). Poverty and parents working outside the home causes poor nutrition, which has led to the establishment of the “Kids’ Diner” movement that is starting to spread throughout Japan. We share below parts of an article about this movement that was introduced in the Kyodan periodical Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend). (KNL Editorial Section)
In May 2016, a voluntary group of Yokohama Konandai Church in Kanagawa Prefecture started the Santa (Claus) Kids’ Diner at the suggestion of one if its members, Yoshida Noboru. He found supporters among the church members and, to make it more accessible, rented a space separate from the church. Yoshida was able to acquire the use of a multipurpose room with kitchen facilities free of charge from the Konandai Care Plaza of Konandai Ward, a place where he had already been involved in volunteer activities.
When the church engages in such an activity, it must be approved at a congregational meeting, but in order to get things started as soon as possible, it was decided to create a separate organization called the “Santa Kids’ Diner” and a steering committee from the church was established with the authority to carry out this project. The members included the minister, Yoshida, and five other members and associates of the church. When seeking support from the larger community, a worker at the ward office suggested that Konandai Ward was generally a well-off area and that he was unaware of any children in need, but the leader of the local neighborhood association offered support and declared that as long as there are single-parent homes, there is the likelihood of such children being in the area. In the end, this project received the support of both the neighborhood association and the Social Welfare Council.
The Konandai Care Plaza also sponsored the project and serves as the place to contact for information, helps distribute fliers at local elementary and junior high schools, as well as putting the fliers on municipal bulletin boards, including them in neighborhood bulletins, and even placing them in supermarkets. Yoshida and the others notified the Ward’s Sanitation Division of who the food hygiene supervisor would be and asked staff to sample every meal. Church member Nakamura Tomoko, who is an experienced cook, serves as the supervisor, creator of the menu, and kitchen leader.
All together there are six volunteers, including four from the church, the oldest of whom was Nakamura Takako who is 90 years old. In the beginning they decided to open the kitchen only once a month. The cost for each time, not including the cost for seasonings, was ¥5,000 for 30 meals, with 10 to 20 percent of the ingredients donated by church members. There is a small income from the fee and offerings from the church, but the overall cost has been in the red. Other than dishes, everything had to be provided, and Pastor Nakazawa Yuzuru has kept it all in the manse. And it was a given that there should be no indication of religion in a public place.
At the opening, which took place on May 6, 2016, enough food for 30 people was prepared; 14 children came, but food was provided for guardians and newspaper reporters as well. Three elementary school students came together after seeing the poster in a supermarket. Another elementary school student came alone. Kato Yuko, who was at the reception desk, learned anew the fact that some children eat their evening meal alone and shared how she was happy to receive such children at the cafe. From June, meal tickets were divided into those for infants, children, and adults, and more food was added. Yoshida told all the adults that “it was important to watch the children and see who was not eating and report it to the appropriate organization.” After 5 pm, previous users, parents with children, and groups of elementary school students kept on coming. The 30 meals that had been prepared were all gone by 6:30 pm. But no one left right after eating. Children meeting for the first time made friends, and parents also connected and conversed with one another.
Many people think of Kids’ Diner as a way to fight poverty, but the volunteers working here see another function as well. “There is an economic side and a mental side to poverty. Mothers also need a place like this to communicate, to help each other heal, and to encourage one another. If parents can smile, it will have a positive influence on the children as well.” Of course, how to help children without access to adequate food to connect with the program is also a concern that must be addressed.
From July, the Kids’ Diner has started receiving financial support from the ward, and the steering committee is working towards establishing an NPO, hoping that the diner might also become a place where children can play or study free of charge. For that reason they are seeking greater understanding of their work at the kitchen and praying together as they proceed towards their goal. (Tr. RW)
—From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend) September 2016 issue
Summarized by KNL Editor Kawakami Yoshiko
昨今、日本の子どもの相対的貧困率The relative poverty rateが高くなり、OECD加盟国34カ国中、10番目に高く