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Food drives, volunteer activities to stockpile, donate and distribute food to needy people, are increasing in Japan as poverty expands.

“There are people supported by the food you donate,” reads a message on the Kizuna (bond) Box in the corner of a supermarket in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Donated food is sent to Food Bank Ibaraki, a nonprofit organization, and distributed to people in need, such as families headed by single mothers and the households of jobless people, through local social welfare councils or other entities.

Food Bank Ibaraki installed the Kizuna Box in April 2015 at a supermarket run by the Ibaraki Co-op consumer association after the Ushiku Municipal Government launched a program to help the poor and needy.

Unopened retort-pouch and canned products with more than two months to go before their best-by dates are among the products accepted.

Originating in the United States, food drives are drawing increasing public attention in Japan, where the gap between rich and poor is widening. Particularly worrisome is the increasing number of children living in poverty, many in single-parent households.

The nation recently got a shock after a government statistic revealed that in 2012, 1 in 6 children under age 18 was living in poverty.

Ushiku is far from unique in wanting to respond to the increasing number of residents who cannot afford food.

Food Bank Ibaraki found it necessary to “collect foodstuffs in small lots and send them immediately to families in need, rather than large-scale donations requiring much time and manpower to sort out,” said Satoshi Ono, director of the NPO.

In addition to Co-op Ushiku supermarket, the charity has installed collection boxes in 19 other places around Ibaraki, resulting in a 2.2-fold increase in donations from individuals in the year through March from the previous year.

Similar efforts are spreading throughout the country.

In Yokohama, Fits Me Idogaya, a fitness club for women run by scale maker Tanita Corp., collected food this summer from members as part of its second contribution to food drives in 2016. The club plans to hold the event at least once a year.

The event is partly an extension of the club’s advice not to keep excess food at home to help with weight control, an official in charge said.

“I am happy if I can be of any help because it was easy to do since I just come here to exercise,” a 56-year-old member who contributed food said.

In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, the Palsystem Chiba Co-op consumer association launched a campaign in June in which delivery drivers collected foodstuffs donated by members.

And in the city of Minami-Alps, Yamanashi Prefecture, Food Bank Yamanashi sought donations at stadiums when high school or professional teams played games.

That program drew such strong local attention that high school students offered to become volunteer members of the group, the organizer said.

Still, there are many people who just throw food out even if they wish to donate.

“Anyone can readily participate in food drives if there are many more collection places,” said Keiko Yoneyama, director of Food Bank Yamanashi. “Public financial assistance is also necessary because many support groups are short of operating funds.”

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