The ACRS Food Bank is the only food bank in Washington that regularly distributes foods for Asian and Pacific Islander diets. • Courtesy Photo
The ACRS Food Bank is the only food bank in Washington that regularly distributes foods for Asian and Pacific Islander diets. • Courtesy Photo

It’s 7:00 a.m. in the Chinatown International District and Asian seniors are lining up on King Street to be first in line at the ACRS Food Bank. They come bundled in warm clothes with shopping carts dragging behind them. When the food bank staff and volunteers arrive for work, clients watch as they move 50 pound bags of rice up the ramp and inside the tiny construction trailer that is home to the second busiest food bank in Seattle. On a typical distribution day, the counter inside the food bank is covered with packages of dried noodles, vegetables, canned goods, and bags filled with rice. Paper grocery bags line the floor in rows along the wall, ready to hand out.

The mission of the ACRS Food Bank is simple and basic to the core. Provide food to those in need. Fight hunger in the Asian Pacific Islander community. ACRS distributed 969,801 pounds of food in 2014. 5,665 clients visit the food bank 120,526 times over the course of the year. On each visit, clients eagerly accept what they can get. Seventy-five percent of the ACRS Food Bank and Emergency Feeding program clients are children under the age of 18 or seniors over the age of 65.

In recent years, more homeless people have signed up for services. Sometimes they walk in off the street to ask for something to eat. Homeless women, living under the I-5 freeway are now adding to the mix. Food bank staff tries to accommodate everyone who asks for help. Providing vital services to the Asian Pacific American community is part of ACRS’s core mission. Mental health, employment, citizenship, youth program, counseling for aging adults and families are just a part of what ACRS has been doing since 1973.
The work ACRS does caught Herb Tsuchiya’s eye 25 years ago. Tsuchiya considered ACRS an “undiscovered jewel.” As impressed as he was, Tsuchiya wanted more people know that ACRS was a valuable resource they could turn to for help. Seeing the lines of people outside the ACRS Food Bank concerned Tsuchiya, who joined forces with his wife Bertha and friend Sam Mitsui to raise money to feed the hungry.

“I saw so many elderly, women, and children who lacked adequate food,” he said. Tsuchiya also noticed some of the food provided was not typical of the Asian diet. “No one donated rice,” said Tsuchiya, a retired pharmacist known for his volunteer work. His easy going manner is in balance with his roles in Asian American theatre, community activism and dedication to social issues.

For Herb and Bertha Tsuchiya and Sam Mitsui, rice became their main cause. “In 1990, Herb and I, along with Asian church members gathered at the ACRS office on Jackson Street to determine how we could help raise funds for the ACRS Food Bank. Herb came up with the idea to sponsor a walk to raise the funds, hence, our title “Walk for Rice,” was born,” said Mitsui.

Blaine Methodist Church, along with the Chinese and Japanese Baptist Churches, offered to sponsor Walk for Rice that year. “Our first Walk for Rice started at the Chinese Baptist Church and our 2.5 mile walk was on the pedestrian path on Beacon Avenue,” recalled Mitsui, a member of the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II and an accomplished local runner.

As a brand new event, Walk for Rice raised $1,800. Forty-five people signed up for the fundraiser. In 2013, Walk for Rice exceeded $200,000 in donations for the first time. The 2014 campaign broke that record. “Due to the generosity of sponsors, organizations, walkers and runners, we raised a record $274,538,” said Mitsui. “I’m surprised how much it has grown. It started with three people with one idea and over the years has grown tremendously,” said Karen Jackel, director of the ACRS Food Bank the last 23 years.

Walk for Rice has become an annual mission as ACRS staff, Board of Directors, corporations, and community supporters create fundraising teams with names like “Miso Hungry” and “Food Bank Friends.” Tsuchiya credits Walk for Rice for their compassion. “It’s a community effort to help those in need to put food on the table,” Tsuchiya said. His regular fundraising team is CBC Hot Rice.

Tsuchiya has every Walk for Rice T-shirt from over the years. Before they provided T-shirts, ACRS gave people buttons with the event name printed on them. One of Tsuchiya’s favorite memories was a Walk for Rice held one the Fourth of July weekend when the CEO of a refreshment drink company finished first in the run around the Seward Park loop. “The man ran around and won the race. He was so happy,” Tsuchiya said. The CEO donated refreshments to the event in following years.

Tsuchiya also has fond memories of the year people wore costumes to Walk for Rice. They brought their dogs all dressed up too. Each Walk for Rice event is like a celebration to help the ACRS Food Bank. Even during the years when it rained, crowds still gathered for the taiko drummers, Chinese Community Girls Drill Team and the walk or run around Seward Park.

The success of Walk for Rice is matched by the need for it. Throughout the years, 21 community organizations and churches around Seattle distribute meals and food through ACRS sponsored nutrition programs. In honor of its 25th Walk for Rice year, ACRS is recognizing the generosity of Uwajimaya. “People like Sam, Herb, and the late Bertha with many others, selflessly support many important projects and programs such as ACRS’s Walk for Rice, that makes us all proud to be part of our community,” said Tomio Moriguchi, Chairman of the Board of Uwajimaya. “ACRS is pleased and humbled by the opportunity to honor Uwajimaya for years of generous contributions to our food bank. The ACRS Food Bank is known for being a special place because of the culturally appropriate, familiar, and nutritious foods we are able to provide to the most vulnerable in our community,” said Candace Inagi, development director at ACRS.
“Walk for Rice grew into a successful event. I’m sure (Sam and Herb) are proud,” said Jackel. From its humble beginnings to what it is now, Walk for Rice is now a major fundraiser. “It’s a great cause, fighting hunger. See you at Walk for Rice,” Tsuchiya said.

Walk for Rice is on June 27, 2015 at Seward Park. Visit www.walkforrice.org for details.

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