【Report】2nd Break Talks “Kodomo-Shokudo (Children’s Cafeteria)” (Guest Speaker: Mr. Yuhei Doi) (August 25, 2021)

On August 25th, S.C.P.Japan hosted its second Break Talks event. We invited Mr. Yuhei Doi as a speaker, who runs “Okuwa Kodomo Shokudo”, (a Kodomo-Shokudo is “a place to eat where children can go even by themselves for free or low-cost meals.”) in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture. While working at a children’s home (run by social care services), Mr. Doi started “Okuwa Kodomo Shokudo” two years ago and is currently the Volunteer Representative of the service.

The first half of the event was themed “Inclusive Society – from a viewpoint of a children’s cafeteria,” Mr. Doi introduced the service and talked about the issues he has faced through managing and operating. 

What is “Okuwa Kodomo Shokudo”?

Since January 2019, “Okuwa Kodomo Shokudo,” has been in operation for the residents in Okuwamachi, Kanazawa City. It is held once a month and about 50 children and adults get together. At the beginning, the community center was rented out to host the meals, but since March 2020 because of the pandemic, adjustments had been made to serve with lunch boxes.

“Okuwa Kodomo Shokudo” is not just about providing meals. There are various events and activities for children to enjoy, such as a latte art workshop. One event had a chiropractor visit to perform treatment and give parents some opportunities to relax. Children-friendly outdoor events are also planned, such as potato harvesting and camping – in order to involve the wider community and families.

“Okuwa Kodomo Shokudo” operates on the fee from the participants. It is free for children and 300 yen for adults. Therfore, participation of certain numbers of adults is needed in order to earn operating costs. At the moment, these fees are not enough to cover the expenses such as food, venue, insurance etc., and the deficit is being covered by donations. The biggest challenge is to secure funding and stabilize the management of the service.

What are the issues you find by running “Okuwa Kodomo Shokudo”?

Okuwamachi is a place where a large number of apartment blocks are and there are many single parent households living there, as well as others with various needs – like elderly people and people with disabilities. Due to a relatively rapid turnover of residents and isolation of certain households, the anonymity makes it difficult to see who needs help and where they are.

My own experience of growing up with a father with a mental health problem is one of the reasons why I tried to get involved in this movement. My day job is working at a children’s home, where I work with socially vulnerable young people. I know that there are also families who are facing difficult challenges right now, who are still in the community, but their lives are on the verge of collapsing – a mere step away from their children being placed in social care. Through the children’s cafeteria, I feel there must be something we can do to help these people, to prevent them from falling further.

As we run the cafeteria for a longer period, I feel the bond between the families who use the service is getting stronger. A lady noticed a child who hadn’t attended the cafeteria for a while, and she visited the child’s home to see what was going on. On another occasion, a family had been going through a hard time with their child struggling to go to school, so one of the participants recommended our cafeteria to the mother. After they joined, the child made friends with other children in the cafeteria and subsequently managed to go back to school. 

I am very much conscious that the children’s cafeteria is not just a place to provide meals. I would like it to be a place where we can give children an opportunity to experience a variety of things, a place for children to come to – if they are having difficulties going to school. It also makes me so happy to hear from our volunteers – whose children have already grown up, that they really enjoy cooking for and interacting with the families who come here.

As for our future activities, we are thinking of an outdoor workshop as well as opening a traditional styled candy store, as a way to have more direct contact with children. In addition, we would like to create a “food bank,” a free food distribution service for those who are in need, with food that would have otherwise been wasted.

In the second half, Ms. Shigenami – the Director of S.C.P. Japan, facilitated a discussion for Mr. Doi and the participants. Someone suggested Mr. Doi to work closely with schools and City Hall to advertise the service to a wider community. Mr. Doi responded that in Ishikawa Prefecture, the current regulation is that schools are unable to make an independent decision whether they should inform the community of the children’s cafeteria or not. The Prefectural Board of Education is responsible for this decision. They then discussed the importance of building a good relationship between schools and the service. Mr. Doi also explained that the family support section of City Hall distributes pamphlets that include information on the children’s cafeteria, but it has not reached all of those who are in need. They also discussed how to maximize “word of mouth” reviews from the participants and volunteers in order to promote the service further. They also talked about the possibility of asking for help from those who have direct contacts with the target households, such as the people who regularly collect money from them for services, etc.

Finally, Mr. Doi emphasized that the future of the socially vulnerable children can change for the better – with the right support. It is extremely important to keep believing in them, and never stop supporting them as we continue to pursue new initiatives.

Through these Break Talks, S.C.P.Japan will continue to introduce inspirational guests and their activities to create a place where people from diverse backgrounds can get together and learn. Our aim is to encourage discussions about achieving a more diverse and inclusive society.

We would like to thank all 22 participants and everyone who helped us organize this event. 

Finally, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Doi for participating as our special guest speaker. We would also like to thank the volunteer staff and sign language interpreters who worked very hard to make this happen.