It all began with bread crusts — lots and lots of bread crusts.
Tatsuya Sakamaki, owner of bread manufacturer Bongout in the Saitama city of Kawaguchi, was troubled by the bags of crusts that would accumulate from the 50 loaves of white sandwich bread he prepared two or three times per month for children at local day care centers.
Sakamaki couldn’t reuse the crusts and had no other choice but to throw them out with the trash.
“It was so wasteful,” Sakamaki recalls. “I didn’t want to throw them away. I tried to give them away or use them somehow, but there were just so many. I couldn’t think of anything else to do with them.”
This all changed after food loss expert Rumi Ide participated in one of his baking classes. Ide had been contacted by some Kawaguchi assembly members who were interested in reducing food waste. Toshinobu Ishibashi was among the lawmakers.
Together, the group decided to organize regular food drives and invited locals to bring food and beverages that hadn’t passed their best-before date to a designated spot where they would then be distributed to those in need.
“So much food is being wasted in Japan and as a lawmaker I thought it was an issue that needed to be confronted,” Ishibashi says. “I was looking for ways in which I could contribute. I wanted to do something about the fact that food was being thrown away even though there are people in need and I wanted to see if there was a way to match the two.”
Once Sakamaki agreed to donate his offcuts to the project, the group needed to find someone in need of bread crusts. Through a stroke of luck, they were introduced to the Kawaguchi branch of Sai no Kuni Children and Youth Support Network, which supports local children and young people in need.
“Collaborations between the private sector and the government are very important,” Ide says. “It’s called collective impact, where various organizations and individuals get together to hold frank discussions to solve social problems. Each person has his or her strengths and can contribute in their own way.”
The Kawaguchi Center staff visits the homes of underprivileged children and young people.
Meanwhile, about 250 junior high school students and 80 high school students attend the center’s after-school classes, which also offer dinners.
Takami Kurisawa, head of the Kawaguchi Center, says the children at the youth center are happy to be sent Bongout’s bread crusts, which they eat with either jam or butter, or even remake into French toast.
Kurisawa says it is difficult to secure enough food for their students, some of whom have their first meal of the day at the center.
Before Bongout decided to get involved, Kurisawa says all of the food provided had either been donated by organizations such as nonprofit food bank Second Harvest Japan and Radish Boya, a grocery delivery service company, or the center’s own staff.
In April, however, the local government has created a budget for “food education” for the support center, enabling it to buy some food.
“Food is not just about nutrition. People communicate through food … and that is how children grow,” Kurisawa says. “The necessities of life are food, clothing and shelter, and food is the support we can offer by eating and cooking together with the children.”
The Kawaguchi team now holds food drives twice a year. Most recently, in June, they collected dried noodles, various types of canned food, broth, snacks, cereal, seasoning and so on, all of which were handed over to the Kawaguchi youth center.
“We are so grateful,” Kurisawa says. “We are able to feed these children because of Ms. Ide and the others. In this case, we’re not talking about ‘food loss’ anymore because the food is actually reaching those truly in need.”