To address growing poverty, particularly that affecting single-parent households and the homeless, hunger-relief organizations are launching a nationwide food banking network with the aim of sharing information and streamlining operations.
Groups from 11 prefectures will hold a symposium in Tokyo on Friday where they will kick off the network and discuss food banking strategies.
The number of nonprofit organizations that provide aid to the growing number of households eligible for social welfare has been on the rise in recent years. Still, they have often worked individually, failing to coordinate or communicate with similar groups offering services in different parts of the country.
According to a 2012 survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 16.1 percent of households in Japan are believed to be living on less than half the national median income.
The rate is even higher for single-parent households, most of which are headed by single mothers, where 54.6 percent are living in poverty — the highest in the developed world.
Among the elderly, about 20 percent of households are considered to be living in poverty.
Under the food banking system, the relief groups gather food that cannot or is not sold due to packaging flaws or other defects and deliver them free of charge to households and welfare facilities.
The practice, which began in 2000, also helps donor companies lower their waste disposal costs.
The central government is a backer of the initiative and is calling for its expansion across the nation.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as many as 40 organizations nationwide had joined the movement as of February 2014.
Some communities, however, are struggling to find food producers willing to donate their unsold inventory.
Food Bank Yamanashi, a nonprofit organization based in the city of Minami-Alps in Yamanashi Prefecture, is credited with coming up with the idea for the network. Together with local government entities, it has been providing services to those in need since 2008.
According to the group, all such organizations struggle to secure funds to cover operational costs, attract volunteers and find food donors. Food Bank Yamanashi believes, however, that a comprehensive food banking network will enable organizations to more effectively share information that will help them attract local donors and distribute the food relief in more efficient ways.
“We would like to help new members (with our know-how) and help them extend aid to the growing number of people living in poverty,” said Keiko Yoneyama, head of Food Bank Yamanashi.
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