Japanese Community Volunteers at Food Bank on 9/11

Members of Japanese community organizations volunteered at the Food Bank for New York City on Friday, September 11, turning a painful day for New Yorkers into a day of service and support by assisting approximately 500 people in need through the pantry distribution service, early senior supper, and dinner service.

The activity was organized by the Consulate General of Japan in New York, which began volunteering at the Food Bank in West Harlem as a way to thank New Yorkers for their support of Japan after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. This year there were 31 volunteers from the Consulate, the Japanese American Association of New York (JAA), the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC), the JET Alumni Association of New York (JETAANY), Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Japanese American Social Services Inc. (JASSI), the New York Japanese American Lions Club, and Japanese American and Japanese in America (JAJA).

Yuki Kaneshige, a speechwriter at the Consulate, coordinated the volunteers, dividing them into three groups. One group distributed nutritious food, another prepped food, and the third cooked and served meals.

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Yuki Kaneshige, second from right, organized volunteers from the Japanese community

Kaneshige credits longtime community activist Suki Terada Ports as the inspiration for this volunteer effort. “From going miles out of her way to help strangers, to leading protests, she seems compelled to do anything to help anyone in need in her community,” Kaneshige says of Ports, the former director of the Family Health Project, grew up in Morningside Heights. “And to her, everyone is part of her community.”

Ports is the daughter of a Hawaiian-born father of Japanese decent, and her mother hailed from Matsue, Japan. After her parents suffered the indignities of discrimination during World War II – both of her parents were investigated by the FBI; her mother was placed under house arrest – Ports has dedicated her life to helping others suffering from social injustice.

“I had lots of lessons in community sharing, starting with my Mom and Dad, the community school I attended, and the neighborhood I grew up in, during part of which was the war,” says the 80-year-old Ports.

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Suki Terada Ports, front, has served the Food Bank and various organizations

The volunteers from the Japanese community served at Food Bank for New York City, a non-profit organization with a history that dates back more than 30 years. In 1980 Kathy Goldman founded the Community Food Resource Center, which is now part of the Food Bank for New York City. Ports was instrumental in helping Goldman and former Food Bank Director Liz Krueger develop the first program of nutrition and home-delivered pantry bags for families affected by HIV/AIDS in the late ‘80s.

“So [the volunteers] helped in a program created by Kathy Goldman, who is really a legendary creator of food programs for children in schools and for adults, many of whom are homeless or inadequately sheltered in our great city of contrasts,” says Ports. “This is another example of how the NY Japanese Consulate staff has brought the two communities – government and non-governmental – together in a way that is historic.”

All photos courtesy of Yuki Kaneshige

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Volunteers in the pantry distributed food to families in need

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Volunteers in the pantry

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Food prep

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Cooking up a storm

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Serving food