Food for Thought

Features - June 2nd, 2006
SHJ's team of volunteers

Second Harvest Japan delivers food to those in need

by Laura Fumiko Keehn

Six hundred tons of food waste is generated every sin­gle day in Tokyo. Fifteen percent of the population, or 19 million people in Japan live below the poverty line, and 450,000 people live without food security. These are some of the disturbing figures Charles McJilton, executive director and founder of the Non Profit Organization Second Harvest Japan (SHJ) shared with Weekender in a recent interview.

In a country where food banking is virtually non-ex­istent, McJilton and SHJ are pioneers. On top of the nor­mal organizational issues, there are a myriad of other hurdles that must be navigated in this not always NPO-friendly society. Among them, a bizarre law discourag­ing company donations, which was apparently put into place to prevent companies from bribing government officials. “Did you know that companies can be taxed in Japan if they donate too much?” asked McJilton. “I won’t give you their name, but there is one company that, every week, can get rid of four to five tons of fresh frozen vegetables. This week they had seven tons, but they could only donate to us 400kg. Anymore, and they’ll get taxed.” Indeed, food banking is nowhere near as established as it is in the States, where McJil­ton comes from. “To use a baseball analogy, (food bank­ing organizations in) the U.S. are playing in stadiums, they’re getting paid, and they’re really doing it. We on the other hand barely have gloves and bats.”

Despite such difficulties however, SHJ has managed to avoid any major panic situations. “We sometimes have trouble getting enough people in the right place at the right time. But we’ve never left food on the dock,” says McJilton. “We’ve always been able to pick up food and get it somewhere in time.”

Thanks to their dedication and the support of volunteers and sponsors, SHJ is able to make weekly deliveries for 500 homeless people in Ueno Park, 100 homeless people along Sumida river, as well as send food to over 100 different agencies. Among the many agencies involved, two companies have been long­time, strong supporters of SHJ. Costco donates veg­etables, miso, rice, bread and more for SHJ’s weekly deliveries, while Fujimamas prepares 25 meals for a women’s shelter a week. Second Harvest also delivers to other individuals in need, including single moth­ers and refugees. When asked what motivated him to start SHJ, Mcjilton simply answers “It just makes sense to do something for our society.”

Second Harvest Japan is always looking for volun­teers, donations and ideas. As McJilton put it, “hunger never takes a holiday.” Too many of us see problems and simply turn away, and organizations like Second Harvest Japan give us the opportunity to lend our hand to a very worthy cause. To get involved in any way, visit their website ( For those hoping to volunteer for the weekly deliveries, SHJ asks that you sign up ahead of time.