Food banks across Japan are making free deliveries to children from poor families when schools are in summer recess and stop providing school meals.

Food Bank Komae (FBK) started the delivery service in the summer holiday period last year and sent 3 kilograms of rice, miso, dried noodles and other items per person in a corrugated box to single-parent's families in Komae, western Tokyo.

One of the recipients was a woman with a daughter, an elementary school fourth-grader.

“Provision of rice made it possible for me to spend more money to buy ingredients for a variety of side dishes,” said the mother in her 30s. “The assistance was really helpful.”

The woman said food expenses increase during summer vacations, while housing rent accounts for half of her monthly income of 150,000 yen ($1,381) after taxes.

“I usually balance the budget by reducing food costs, so it is tough to make ends meet in August,” she said. “The food support also helps me mentally.”

The service is available free to children in Tokyo, Shizuoka, Kyoto and other prefectures, as many students who cannot eat enough at home lose weight during the long school holiday seasons, when cheaper school meals are not provided.

An expert praised the effort, saying that it is “significant in lessening the nutritional gap” between wealthy households and families suffering from poverty.

According to a 2017 survey by Komae city, more than 40 percent of one-parent households said they could not purchase necessary groceries because of financial problems over the past year.

Last summer, FBK started its food delivery project during long vacation periods.

It distributed leaflets on its service in envelopes the municipality sends to single-parent families to study their circumstances as part of the child-care allowance program. Food items were delivered to 44 households last summer who contacted FBK based on information in its fliers.

The issue of children losing weight after summer holidays emerged as a social problem when a book titled “Kodomo no Hinkon Hakusho” (White paper on children’s poverty) was published by Akashi Shoten in 2009.

In 2015, Food Bank Yamanashi launched its pupil assistance project to offer foodstuffs to households with children that want to receive the service during long holiday seasons.

The program was inspired by a story of an elementary school teacher who was asked by a student, “Do you have something to eat?” when the pupil visited the school on a summer holiday.

Food Bank Yamanashi has signed agreements with eight cities and towns to share information on its program through schools with families that receive schooling subsidies.

A total of 1,312 children from 624 households will be provided with food this summer, according to Food Bank Yamanashi officials.

SPREADING ACTIVITY

According to the national food bank promotion council in Tokyo, at least nine groups in Iwate and Shizuoka prefectures as well as elsewhere are planning to deliver food to child-rearing families this summer.Second Harvest Kyoto, which began distributing foodstuffs last summer, also collaborates with schools.

While its leaflets are enclosed in subsidy-eligible students’ correspondence bags at elementary schools in Kyoto city if their principals give permission, it also works with the education board in Yawata, Kyoto Prefecture, so that the details of its activity can be sent to those who have passed screening for schooling subsidies.

The collaboration with schools enables Second Harvest Kyoto to make sure that needy households receive its information, according to group officials.

Food Bank Ibaraki will start its first summer food delivery service this year.

It accepted families who want foodstuffs through the mediation of nine support organizations operating facilities for offering free or cheap meals to poor children and other purposes in Ibaraki Prefecture.

A total of 241 households are expected to receive boxes each containing 14 kg of rice, root crops, snacks and other foods this summer.

Hitoshi Koyama, 64, an official of the Ibaraki Consumers’ Co-operative Union, assists in the effort.

“Many teachers have told me that some children have become thinner when going to school following the end of long holidays,” said Koyama. “The activity is essential though it cannot eliminate the root cause of the issue.”

The findings of a survey released in 2017 by Nobuko Murayama, a public health nutrition professor at the University of Niigata Prefecture, and her colleagues showed that significant differences in food types and nutrition consumption were reported between wealthier and poor households during periods when school meals are not available.

In the research, 836 fifth-grade elementary school students were divided into three groups, depending on their families’ annual income levels.

Comparing nutritional intakes of the low- and middle-income groups on school-meal days and meal-free days, Murayama discovered that children in the low-income group consume 10.4 percent less seafood, 6.1 percent less iron, 5.7 percent less green and yellow vegetables and 5.3 percent less protein, when lunches are not offered at schools.

No significant nutritional gap was reported among children from different income groups on school-meal days.

“There is a high possibility of the nutritional gap being widened during summer holidays with no school meals, exerting greater effects on children,” said Murayama. “Distributing food is an important activity to help lessen the gap.”