Universities in Japan are distributing free food to students who are struggling financially amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Many students have suffered drops in income due to losing their part-time jobs or having their shifts reduced amid the crisis.
In the Tokyo metropolitan area, the initiatives have been met waves of students looking to receive such support even after the government's state of emergency over the coronavirus was lifted in the region late last month. Organizers say many students are in difficult situations as they are facing delays in receiving income even after their workplace reopen.
At Tokyo Metropolitan University in Hachioji, western Tokyo, a group of teachers has been distributing free food since last month. On May 23, they handed out rice, vegetables and prepared food collected from supporters and bought with donations to some 150 students who came to three distribution sites with their own bags.
A 23-year-old fourth-year student in the university's law faculty said she came to receive the food after her monthly income fell below ¥10,000 in May from around ¥50,000 in ordinary times. The plunge in the income, used mainly to cover her living expenses, came after she was forced to cut the number of days of working part time as an condominium building cleaner.
"I had thought I would not be affected (by the coronavirus outbreak), but (my shifts were reduced) because some condominium residents said they do not want to let outsiders in," the student said.
"I can't go back to working like before even though the state of emergency was lifted," she added. "It's going to be tough if my shifts don't come back."
According to Hiroyuki Nomoto, professor at the university's faculty of humanities and social sciences, the number of students seeking food donations has been growing with each distribution session.
"Even if part-time workplaces are reopened, students won't get wages immediately," he said. "There will be a lag before the economic situation of students recovers."
A volunteer center run by the social welfare council of Yokohama distributed 10 days' worth of rice and instant noodles to students in the city on May 22.
The center initially said the food items would be distributed to 100 people, but a wave of applicants prompted it to procure more. Around 150 students ended up receiving the donations.
"Students want food for the next two or three days more than cash that will be paid several months ahead," said Taku Wakabayashi, a staff member responsible for the distribution.
Yokohama National University is set to conduct a similar handout of food on its campus soon. The university received applications from 100 students in just 20 minutes after the school posted information on the initiative on its website on May 25.
"The current situation must be tough," Hiromi Kabashima, vice president of the university, said, noting, "Economic activity just has restarted, and cash benefits from the government have yet to be distributed."
"We'd like to continue the food aid initiative while monitoring the situation," Kabashima said.
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