Tackling food poverty in Japan without handouts

There is an organisation in Japan which is taking a different approach to helping people living in food poverty.

Second Harvest’s Marugohan initiative doesn’t simply deal in handouts, it asks for something back in return.

That could be a good deed, or even, paradoxically, a small donation of food.

The idea is to give people in need, some agency, a sense that they are not merely the receivers of help, but also the givers.

It was started by Charles McJilton, who says he doesn’t define what Second Harvest does as “helping” but more like providing a service. He compares it to a public library or hospital.

In this edition of the Table Talk podcast, we focus on one of the food related Expo Live global innovators at Expo 2020 hosted in Dubai.

Stefan Gates talks to Charles about how cultural factors often prevent people seeking help with food poverty in Japan, how trust of charities is low, and how Covid has affected Second Harvest’s work.

And they try to answer the question: ‘Could this model be copied around the world?’

Charles E. McJilton, Founder, Second Harvest Japan

Charles first went to Asia in 1984 with the US military, and returned to Japan in 1991 to conduct research at Sophia University.

At that time he lived in a religious community in one of the poorest sections of Tokyo (Sanya) where day-laborers and homeless lived. It was this experience that set him on his current trajectory.

In 1995 he founded “Let’s Build,” a self-help centre dedicated to providing tools for those living on the streets to either help themselves or die with dignity. While he felt he understood many of the issues of those in his community, he felt something lacking. So from January 1997 to April 1998 he lived in a cardboard house among the homeless along the Sumida River in Tokyo. This experience radically changed his worldview and deeply influences his approach to providing aid and developing organisations. 

He has founded four organisations in Asia that deal with food security. In 2002 he incorporated the first food bank in Japan (Second Harvest Japan).

In 2010 he created a 501(c)3, Second Harvest Asia, to promote food banking in Asia. In 2012 he incorporated the first food bank in the Philippines (Salu-Salo: Food Bank Philippines). And in 2013 he established a public-interest foundation, registered at the Japanese Cabinet Office, Alliance of Japan Foodbanks (formerly Second Harvest Japan Alliance) to develop a national network of food banks in Japan.

He has taught NGO Management at Sophia University since 2009. He is married with four children.

Poverty in Tokyo Japan

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Tackling food poverty in Japan without handouts