For my Community Involvement Project (CIP), I took the opportunity to volunteer in the Southern Kūjo Church Children’s Kitchen, or こども食堂, with fellow KCJS student David Massart. The essence of the Children’s Kitchen is giving free meals to children in the community and discounted meals to anyone else that needs them. Every Thursday from 5 pm to around 9 pm I helped serve meals, clean dishes, and clean up the cafeteria after all of the families and children had gone home. This was an extremely rewarding way to spend my Thursday evenings—I was always happy to see how many people the Children’s Kitchen helped, and it was always fun to work with the other young volunteers. In addition, I got to work under Pastor Baekki Heo who was hardworking, kind, and everything you’d want in someone you’re working under.
Manual labor was a big component of this CIP, which to me underscored the selflessness and generosity present in the community of volunteers who regularly gave up their Thursdays to make sure that their neighbors and friends were fed, safe, and treated with kindness. Most of the other volunteers at the Kitchen were high school or college students in Kyoto. Every day they came to volunteer with a smile and always eager to work hard—an aura that was infectious to me. Often, I would spend what felt like 15 minutes washing dishes and an hour would fly by. Although I wouldn’t ordinarily be so engaged in dish washing, with all of the hard studying I was doing through KCJS, the manual labor and constant social contact with other hardworking volunteers was a welcome break.
Volunteering at the Children’s Kitchen also taught me practical skills, from the traditional placement of food at a Japanese eatery to how a non-profit kitchen works in the first place. I hope to take these skills home to my parents—to my mom, who grew up in Japan, and my dad, who is an American but nevertheless is a keen appreciator of Japanese food. Maybe in the next couple of months while I am home in Alaska, I can impress them with a simple comfort food like salmon onigiri, made with fresh Alaska salmon!
I highly recommend working at the Children’s Kitchen to anyone who is interested in doing some really worthwhile volunteering. I believe I can best characterize my experience with this CIP as a case of witnessing ordinary people do extraordinary things every time I came to volunteer. In every meal made and every interaction with people coming to the Children’s Kitchen, there was a lot of thought put into making sure everyone was taken care of. After each day of volunteering was done, Pastor Baekki Heo led a meeting about how things could be improved upon for next time. There was always a good, productive discussion despite the tiredness of the end of the day and everyone closed by saying お疲れ様 (otsukaresama) and parting ways. It was always satisfying at the end of the day to know that you were able to help some people and give back to the community a little bit even as a visitor to Japan.
Even though our time in Kyoto was abruptly cut short, I feel like I squeezed every bit out of this experience volunteering. The volunteering sessions were long compared to other CIPs and there was always a lot of work to do, but I am supremely grateful to have been able to work at the Children’s Kitchen!