Creative student service project “Table for Tohoku” turns lunch into opportunity

High school senior Mariko Kanai explains the origin of a student-led project to send fresh vegetables to earthquake effected Minamisoma with funding from special cafeteria items at ASIJ.

Table for Tohoku was launched by a group of high school juniors

Table for Tohoku was launched by a group of high school juniors

Shortly after March 11, 2011, we were swept up in a sense of helplessness and frustration while all we could do was watch continuous footage of the tsunami engulfing innocent people. We wanted to contribute to the disaster relief, but our options were limited as high school students; missing school was not an option and the evacuation zones encircling the nuclear plants prevented us from reaching the most needy. So we shifted gears and examined our surroundings to see if we could do something from Tokyo.

The Table for Tohoku concept

The Table for Tohoku concept

We recalled coming across the Table for Two program, which is already implemented in colleges and offices across the United States and Japan. “Saving the world with each healthy meal you take” is its motto and it collects twenty-five cents per meal to fund a meal for children in Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa. We altered the program to fit our sole interest in Tohoku relief and created Table for Tohoku. After gathering a group of six high school juniors, we proposed the idea to Mr. Marty Tromburg, the business manager, and Ms. Sanae Ishihara, the cafeteria manager, and started to brainstorm how to involve the ASIJ community.

Collaborating with Mr. Tromburg, Ms. Sanae and the rest of the cafeteria and kiosk staff, we sold four “Table for Tohoku” menus—burritos, smoothies, yogurt parfaits, and yakitori—one each quarter on Mondays through Wednesdays every week. ¥20 and later ¥40 of each menu’s price went to the Table for Tohoku fund and was donated to the Save Minamisoma Project to send fresh vegetables to Minamisoma families in temporary housing.

Since January 2012, Table for Tohoku has sold almost 5,000 servings, raising ¥100,000. The efforts of the program have been so appreciated by the Save Minamisoma Project and the ASIJ Japan Relief Fund has been matching Table for Tohoku donations this school year. August Hergesheimer, ASIJ parent and one of the founders of the Save Minamisoma Project, remarked “I simply don’t have the words to express our gratitude for continued concern and support for Save Minamisoma Project by these wonderful ASIJ students.”

Mary Kim, Marty Tromburg, Sanae Ishihara and Mariko Kanai show off the yogurt parfait

Mary Kim, Marty Tromburg, Sanae Ishihara and Mariko Kanai show off the yogurt parfait

We would like to thank Mr. Tromburg for his guidance and support from the very beginning, and for arranging for ASIJ to fund an additional ¥20 that raised our donations to ¥40. We’d also like to thank Mrs. Sanae and the cafeteria/kiosk staff for putting together these meals and making them available to ASIJ students. Finally, thank you to the students and faculty who purchased the meals and made this club possible.

We are often overwhelmed by the scope of things when we think about the processes and the people needed to address global problems. But all we really need is some imagination. We learned that help is always needed somewhere; we often do not realize that the place may be close by because we do not look close enough. And we found that it is relatively easy for individuals to take on their responsibility as the global citizens that we strive to be.

Since all six original members (Mariko Kanai, Mary Kim, Hannah Rosenfeld, Alison Klemencic, Ashley Steinlauf, and Kay Degraw [who has left ASIJ]) will be graduating this year, we are in the process of expanding the organization by appointing new leaders. Our hope is that ASIJ will continue to support those affected by the March 11th disaster by feeding the victims as well as ourselves, and to always remember the tragedy through the existence of this program. (Mariko Kanai, grade 12 student)

Further information on the ongoing activities to support Minamisoma City, Fukushima-ken can be found at Save Minamisoma Project or visit their Facebook page.