BY BEN GARRISON
UW News Lab
Herb Tsuchiya describes his life philosophy as “Eat, eat, eat, talk, talk, talk, laugh, laugh, laugh, be kind, be kind, be kind.” He strives to live by this motto every day.
In 16 years, he has helped to raise more than $840,000 for the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) Food Bank.
It’s quite a feat for anyone to achieve, but especially remarkable because Tsuchiya, 74, has no plans to stop.
The funds were raised through Walk for Rice, an event Tsuchiya co-founded with his late wife, Bertha, and Sam Mitsui in 1990. At the time, ACRS was a little-known organization providing mental-health counseling, translation, a food bank and other services to the Asian Pacific American community in King County. For recent immigrants in need of assistance, the bread, pasta and other American staples they received from the food bank were unfamiliar and didn’t fit their normal diet. According to Tsuchiya, these donated goods were often thrown out.
“People want the food they grew up with,” he says. Rice was the staple ACRS needed, but they often had to buy it because it was not commonly donated.
ACRS had its own charity functions throughout the year, but these were mostly banquets and open houses, often carrying a high overhead that the nonprofit agency had to cover. Tsuchiya was invited to these events as a representative of his church, but noticed that attendance was low. “Instead of attending the open house, people just mailed in checks,” he recalls.
To raise awareness about ACRS and the specific needs of their clients, the walkathon was started. In its first year, 45 people participated, raising $1,800. It has grown exponentially since then, moving from the original Beacon Hill route to Alki in West Seattle to its current home in Seward Park. Tsuchiya says the mayor and city council make it a point to attend every year and there are often performances by taiko drummers and a Chinese drill team. The walk last June even featured a “Year of the Dog” costume contest for canines and their owners. At the end of the day, they had also raised $115,000 for ACRS.
“The walkathon is great because it requires no special skills,” says Tsuchiya. “Anyone can walk, and it forces participants and donors to learn about the organization.”
In addition, it’s relatively inexpensive to organize. Nearly everything is donated. The baked goods — all homemade — and refreshments are provided by corporate sponsors such as Talking Rain. This means that most of the money raised goes toward helping the 6,000 low-income APA households and 2,000 individuals who rely on the ACRS Food Bank and nutrition programs to get enough to eat.
In recognition of his work, Tsuchiya was one of five individuals and organizations to receive a 2006 End Hunger Award from Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels in late October.
Not bad for someone whose childhood nickname was “yancha boze,” the Japanese equivalent of “little rascal.” The youngest of seven, Tsuchiya was born in Seattle and grew up in the Central Area. But his life in the city ended abruptly near the end of 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“On Dec. 7, we were citizens, but on Dec. 8, we were the enemy,” he remembers. Executive Order 9066 was signed just three months later by President Roosevelt, authorizing the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese citizens and resident aliens in the United States. Tsuchiya’s family was moved to an “assembly facility” in Puyallup and then on to the Minidoka Relocation Center, also known as the Hunt Camp, in southern Idaho.
After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Minidoka was closed. Tsuchiya returned to the Northwest, attending Franklin High School in South Seattle. He spent a year as a janitor at Seattle University to earn tuition money and graduated from the University of Washington in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacology. Tsuchiya spent much of his professional life as a community pharmacist before moving on to work for the King County Department of Public Health.
While he may be retired now, it’s tough to believe Tsuchiya is 74. He still has the energy and enthusiasm of someone much younger, a quality that his late wife, Bertha, attributed to the fact that “he still is a kid.”
In addition to his charity work, he has been acting for 11 years, often appearing in plays that deal with the Japanese internment. He still participates in the walkathon, but says most of that time is spent taking pictures, socializing and making people feel welcome and happy.
Tsuchiya is also pledging $100,000 of his own money to the ACRS capital campaign. The donation will be used as a community challenge to raise another $150,000 for a new ACRS facility in Rainier Valley and a garden that will be named after Tsuchiya and his late wife.
“I appreciate the blessings I’ve been given and the outcomes I’ve had and I want to give back,” he says when asked about the gift. “Hopefully, it will encourage others to do the same.”
While the “little rascal” moniker may no longer fit, his life philosophy is a perfect match. With all the work he has done to help others, perhaps it’s time for a new nickname.
(BEN GARRISON is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)