Brian Conwell: Volunteering at the Southern Kūjo Church Children’s Kitchen

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!

4 thoughts on “Brian Conwell: Volunteering at the Southern Kūjo Church Children’s Kitchen

  1. Hey Brian, it sounds like you had a great experience at the Southern Kūjo Church Children’s Kitchen. Last summer, I worked for the Coalition Against Hunger in Philadelphia, where I helped people from the local community complete SNAP applications and find food pantries. I think that our experiences were similarly rewarding: I know that feeling of satisfaction that you were able to give back to the community.

    It’s great that in your CIP, you learned some practical skills that you can bring to your family, and at the same time you were helping children in the community. My CIP was also focused on volunteering for children, but it was a bit different in that my role was assisting students with their homework and playing games with them. Did you have any interaction with the kids at the Children’s Kitchen? Or were you mostly responsible for helping out in the kitchen itself with the other volunteers?

    I enjoyed reading your post, and I look forward to talking more about our CIP experiences in the future!

    • Hey Sean, it’s awesome to hear about your volunteer experience in Philadelphia. It definitely sounds like it was rewarding.

      I actually didn’t interact with the kids as much as I thought I would. I would serve them their meals and talk to them occasionally when they came up to get a second plate or something, but other than that we didn’t really interact. The vast majority of the interactions during my CIP were with the other volunteers, who were also mostly young people but definitely not children. I actually much preferred talking to the other volunteers because I could have actual conversations with them and it is kind of hard to talk like that with really young kids.

      Thanks for your comment! Looking forward to catching up in the future!

  2. Your volunteer experience sounds like it was very fun! It is actually kind of nostalgic for me too, since I volunteer in a similar environment during the school year at Emory. There is a non-profit called Bread Coffeehouse that I would bake at and and we would host events for the college students there. On weekends we would do more outreach work which I haven’t had the experience of doing yet. But basically, I understand that feeling of serving food to others; it’s honestly one of my favorite feelings and is actually how I tend to show someone I care (I guess that’s the southern part of my personality).
    Being around kids sounds pretty daunting, to be honest. Were you around kids often during this CIP, or were you mostly behind the scenes? Were you able to get significant practice with Japanese speaking? I also wanted to know if you had a funny memory or favorite experience?

    • Hi Alexis, that’s so cool that you also have experience volunteering at a similar institution back in the States. This CIP has definitely made me want to keep volunteering doing similar stuff at my home college.

      Being around kids was kind of daunting but I definitely got a lot of help from the other volunteers who had more experience. I wasn’t around kids as often as I thought, I was mostly behind the scenes. I was able to get a ton of experience speaking Japanese, and I even learned some words that were specific to serving food. I don’t really have any one specific funny memory, but joking with the other volunteers was always fun and something I’ll remember.

      Thanks for the comment!