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The relief effort: how you can help

by Ashley Thompson

A few readers have questions about donating supplies.

WA writes: “I have seen the tragic earthquake and tsunami incident that happened in Japan. I would love to donate food and clothes and help out as much as I can. Please tell me where I can send supplies.”

And JF: “We are a primary school in the U.K. with a new school logo and are therefore changing our school uniforms. We have an enormous amount of clothing: sweatshirts, polo shirts, etc. that we would like to donate.”

From IF: “I would like to find out a way to donate clothes and other articles to people in need in Japan. I live in Heidelberg, Germany.

“The items I have are in very good condition and others are new. Could you please tell me how to proceed?”

Right now, most organizations are strictly asking for monetary donations, not clothing or supplies. The general advice is to donate money to organizations that can quickly and easily locate and deliver necessary items to disaster-hit areas. Particularly if you live outside of Japan, the best way you can help is to donate money through a trusted charity of your choice, or one that is Japan-specific, such as the Japanese Red Cross Society, Salvation Army Japan, Oxfam Japan, JEN, Jhelp and Second Harvest Japan, to name a few. There are many more but most require Japanese- language ability to navigate online.

Cash and checks can also be sent by registered mail to The Japan Times Readers’ Fund, The Japan Times, 4-5-4 Shibaura, Minato Ward, Tokyo 108-8071, with checks payable to The Japan Times Readers’ Fund. Donations will be used to support the work of Red Cross Japan and the Japan Emergency Team, operated by Jhelp.

You may also want to search online for a group in your region that may have connections with an organization in Japan and is accepting supplies for donation. If you are currently in Japan, you can donate monetarily to any of the organizations above, an organization of your choice, or even through local convenience stores and similar venues. If you’d like to donate food or supplies, Second Harvest Japan is accepting a long list of items such as canned or packaged food, toilet paper, toiletries, over-the-counter medicines, sleeping bags, etc. You can find a comprehensive list and mailing address on the Second Harvest Japan website.

Jhelp is also accepting donations for food and certain supplies — see their website for more information. Also, try contacting your local prefectural office, city hall or volunteer office in Japan. Many places are collecting supplies such as blankets, diapers, and toiletries. Please do not deliver supplies yourself — this creates confusion, adds to traffic congestion, uses much-needed fuel, and makes it more difficult for relief supplies to reach disaster areas.

On the topic of monetary donations, DG writes: “I live in Toronto, Canada, and wish to send my sympathies and condolences for the loss of life and property to the Japanese people.

“I would also like to donate money to a relief effort. I know that some relief agencies are less principled than others, and divert funds to their own pockets. Are there any you would recommend?”

And PD is wondering: “I am seeking a small NGO based in Japan that is sending responders. As the leader of a national religious organization, it is my intent to send the funds we collect to Japan for use by Japanese responders.

“Can you help us identify a place where our funding could help a small group providing services to those in need? Perhaps a shelter, food operation or clinic?”

Whenever you donate money, you should ensure the organization is reputable, trustworthy and has a good track record. If looking for a “small” nonprofit organization, be extra careful and confirm it’s not a scam.

The best approach to finding a charitable organization that deserves your gift is to research and decide for yourself which organization is best. Charity Navigator provides listings of many charities with specific financial information and rankings. Though you won’t find Japan-specific organizations, many of these are accepting donations for the Japan relief effort or will donate directly to a Japanese charity (such as the Japanese Red Cross Society).

In addition to those mentioned earlier, other reputable and frequently recommended charities in Japan include Global Giving, Save the Children, World Vision, Mercy Corps and UNICEF. Some of these charities have financial information in English, but many do not. There are far more small organizations in Japan, but again, most require Japanese-language ability to navigate online.

Readers P and N write: “We are so sad at what has happened in Japan and we pray for the people every day.

“We are retired and have a spare room and could easily take in a small family until things settle down.”

And from RJ: “My family is concerned about the problems Japan is having with the nuclear accident, earthquake and tsunami.

“We are a family of four living in England: My wife and I have two boys, ages 19 and 12. We can offer a couple of spare rooms for a parent and child. This would just be for a few weeks until the situation is better.”

If you are not currently living in Japan, perhaps another form of giving might be a better idea (see above). While a generous offer, the logistics of moving people overseas temporarily are often more complicated and expensive than relocating to another part of Japan. Keep in mind too that most people will need housing for longer than a few weeks, especially if they were to go overseas.

If you are residing in Japan and have room to take in evacuees, you might try checking out the Couchsurfing group set up for the current crisis in Japan.

Note: There are subgroups within this Couchsurfing group for people in other countries to volunteer a place for evacuees to stay. Additionally, the Accommodate Japan Facebook group has listings of people around the world offering housing to evacuees, so they may be good to connect with.

Reader TM writes: “I would very much like to go to Japan to help. I can self-finance for many months, but would love to find a place to stay and some kind of organization to help with. What would you recommend?”

Currently, first-responders are doing their jobs and it’s best for untrained volunteers to stay where they are until the situation has been completely assessed. So, unless you are a medical professional or have disaster relief experience, for now, giving monetarily is the most helpful thing you can do.

Some general advice: Please, do not go to the disaster area alone or without an organization. After assessment is complete, and the disaster relief teams have done their work, organizations (such as Red Cross and others) will likely begin taking volunteers. This may be a few weeks to a couple months away, so best to watch for that.

For those living in Japan: If you are currently able to access the disaster areas or able to work on site, Jhelp ) is looking for volunteers.

The Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching, Smile Kids Japan and folks from Jetwit have compiled a list of prefectural volunteer organizations. Some prefectures are now accepting volunteers, while others have not yet posted volunteer information, but it may be possible to connect with one of these groups. Contacts are listed for some PVOs, but for general inquiries, contact Avalyn Beare or Michael Maher King at volunteer@ajet.net.

With the current power supply issues at Tokyo Electric Power Co. and in the Tohoku region, and with the government urging residents to conserve electricity, many people are wondering if they should be conserving electricity outside of the Kanto region (such as in Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, etc.)

As of now, Tepco has not needed to execute all planned blackouts due to residents and businesses decreasing electricity usage in the region. However, planned outages are still scheduled and will likely continue in the coming weeks.

According to the official websites of electric companies across west and southern Japan, which includes Kansai, Chubu, Chugoku, Kyushu, and Shikoku (no information for Hokuriku), all are covering the demand of their own regions and sending extra electricity to the Kanto region. However, west and east Japan use two different electric current frequencies, 60hz and 50hz, respectively, and as there are only three converter stations in the country, very little electricity can be converted and sent (Kansai Electric’s website says maximum capacity is 1,000,000 kw). Hokkaido is also supplying electricity for the Tohoku and Kanto regions, as they run on 50hz.

So, for residents of west Japan, conserving electricity during this time is certainly a good idea and highly encouraged, though it’s not necessary to take it to any extremes. Then again, it’s better for the environment to use as little electricity as possible, and a little easier on your bank account.

Ashley Thompson writes survival tips and unique how-to’s about living in Japan at www.survivingnjapan.com. Send questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp