Food for the Hungry
by Huntley Nicholas
In March 1985, three months into my now almost 28-year-long practice of Nichiren Buddhism, I found myself leaving the comfort and security of my home in Boston, Massachusetts, to travel to famine-stricken and war-torn Ethiopia. I was the soundman of a two-man film crew that was to document the delivery of several tons of wheat flour and thousands of blankets which had been donated by the oldest continually-operated organization of Black churches in the US. Here I was, a freshly minted Black Buddhist going to Africa with a representative team of Black Baptists.
The human suffering that we witnessed firsthand had a profound and long-lasting effect on me. Visiting the relief camps, I saw people who were so weak they were unable to brush the flies from their faces. The scenes we filmed forever filled my mind with searing memories of how hunger can make living pure misery.
The Ethiopian famine resulted from a years-long drought, successive crop failures, and a protracted civil war in the northern region. This calamity struck a chord in the hearts of millions of people around the world. The famine made it apparent to me that a significant portion of Earth's population lacks fundamental food security.
When I returned to the US, I changed careers. My experiences in Ethiopia made me reflect deeply on my life path, and I decided that, whatever I did, I would never make money off the suffering of others. It was a choice that was years in the making. So began my human revolution in earnest.
In the spring of 2003, after having lived in Tokyo for almost nine years, I learned that a former coworker together with other like-minded people had recently started the country's first food bank, Food Bank Japan (FBJ). The organization was founded with the express purpose of rescuing some of the 5 to 9 million tons of safe food that are thrown away every year in Japan.
When I became involved with FBJ, Tokyo had a large number of homeless people living in parks, alongside waterways, under highways and bridges, and even inside the world's busiest transportation hub, Shinjuku Station. One thing these men and women all had in common, besides their homelessness, was a lack of food security.
I first began volunteering with FBJ on Saturday afternoons to help sort and distribute food donated by a large membership warehouse club. Since I worked from home and could set my own schedule, that once-a-week involvement grew into a five- to six-days-a-week commitment where I was on call to help unload trucks of donated food and stack products, make deliveries to recipient groups and help start the soup kitchen that now serves over 600 meals each Saturday afternoon in Tokyo's Ueno Park.
In 2006, I was elected to the board of trustees of the food bank, which by then was renamed Second Harvest Japan (2HJ). Later, in 2010, a new organization, Second Harvest Asia (2HA), was created to promote food banking in East Asia. I am one of its founding trustees.
Both 2HJ and 2HA contributed greatly to the relief efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011. By the end of the year, 2HJ had delivered over 1,000 tons of aid and had sent 6,639 care packages to the stricken areas.
People, companies and organizations around the world sent heartfelt financial donations and goods. Moreover, many actually came to Japan for the express purpose of volunteering in the activities of 2HJ and other organizations.
A few fellow SGI members came down and pitched in with the loading of trucks and sorting donations, working late into the night, giving a part of their lives so others could live.
Practice for oneself and others is a key aspect of our lives as Buddhists. My work with 2HJ and 2HA is anchored in my passion to make this world a better place for us all to live in while rescuing some of the enormous amounts of safe food that are wasted each day.
[Courtesy January 2013 SGI Quarterly]