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Hunger relief group in west Japan seeks donations as poverty worsens amid pandemic

Pasona Inc.'s Shiga branch employee Anna Takai, left, is seen handing over a box full of food items collected at the office to Food Bank Biwako Chairman Toshihiro Soda at the association's food storage in the city of Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, on March 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Yusuke Konishi)

MORIYAMA, Shiga -- As more people are struggling due to layoffs and declining incomes amid the coronavirus crisis, an association that works with companies and other bodies to collect food and distribute it to the poor is seeing an increase in requests for consultations.

    Food Bank Biwako in the Shiga Prefecture city of Koga, is calling for donations of food products after receiving requests from people, some of whom are in desperate situations and do not even have anything to eat the next day. "I lost my job and I don't have anything to eat," and, "I have to pay my living expenses, and I can't afford to buy food," are some examples of what people say to the group.

    Since April 2020, when the coronavirus spread across Japan, the association has been receiving about 10 calls each month by those including single-parent households, nonregular workers who are single and foreigners who complain of poverty. The number of requests is apparently two to three times the amount the group had been receiving before the pandemic, and people seem to have an increased sense of urgency.

    The association works together with companies, farmers and other food bank organizations to collect food and distribute it across the prefecture to people in poverty who are introduced by bodies including the local council of social welfare. In December 2020, the association conducted distribution events in seven municipalities including Otsu, Takashima and Koka, and handed out food to a daily maximum of 300 households.

    But there seems to be no end to the calls asking for consultations. According to the association, prepackaged and canned food, staple food like rice and noodles, drinking water, baby food -- unopened with over a month until the expiration date -- and diapers are especially essential.

    Chairman Toshihiro Soda, 52, explained, "No matter how much food is donated, it's never too much. And we are grateful even if it's a small amount." The association will conduct an event to collect food products from ordinary households at the Notogawa Community Center in the prefectural city of Higashiomi from noon to 1:30 p.m. on March 6. For inquiries, please contact Soda at 090-2017-6822 (in Japanese).

    The group is also accepting applications for places to set up "food boxes" where residents can donate food and other items at any time. Currently, such boxes are installed in a total of 29 places across the prefecture, including community centers and eateries.

    Pasona Inc.'s Shiga branch in the prefectural city of Kusatsu introduced a food box at the entrance of its office in April 2020. Food items and snacks placed inside the box are donated to the association once a month.

    Anna Takai, a Pasona employee, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Since it (the food box) was set up, I've become more aware of reducing food loss. I want to help people who are in need, even if only a little."

    The list of places where food boxes are installed can be seen on Food Bank Biwako's official website at: https://peraichi.com/landing_pages/view/foodbankbiwako/ (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Yusuke Konishi, Otsu Bureau)

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