It’s 7 AM in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) seniors are lining up on King Street to be first in line at the ACRS Food Bank. They come bundled in warm clothes, dragging shopping carts 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 be handed 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 760,778 pounds of food in 2018, and 5,356 clients have visited the food bank since 2015. During each visit, clients eagerly accept what they can get. Seventy-one percent of clients at the food bank and ACRS’ emergency feeding program for the homeless are children under the age of 18 or seniors over the age of 65. And the numbers have grown the past year.
Sometimes people walk in off the street asking for something to eat. The food bank staff tries to accommodate everyone who asks for help.
Providing vital services to the Asian Pacific American community is part of ACRS’ core mission: mental health, employment, citizenship, youth programs, counseling for aging adults and families are just a part of what ACRS has been doing since 1973.
The work of ACRS caught Herb Tsuchiya’s eye 29 years ago.
Tsuchiya considered ACRS an “undiscovered jewel.” As impressed as he was, he wanted more people to know that ACRS was a valuable resource they could turn to for help.
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,” said Tsuchiya, a retired pharmacist known for his volunteer work, roles in Asian American theatre, community activism and dedication to social issues.
For Herb, Bertha and Sam, 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 Memorial United Methodist Church, along with the Chinese Baptist Church and Japanese Presbyterian Church, 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 in 1990; 45 people signed up for the fundraiser.
In recent years, Walk for Rice has raised between $200,000 to $300,000 in donations each year, with close to 1,000 walkers, runners and volunteers participating.
“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, coordinator at the ACRS Food Bank the last 27 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 as a channel for their compassion.
“It’s a community effort to help those in need to put food on the table,” said Tsuchiya, whose fundraising team is “Uncle Herb’s Team” this year.
Tsuchiya has every Walk for Rice t-shirt from over the years. Before t-shirts, there were buttons with the event name printed on them. He has those, too.
One of Tsuchiya’s favorite memories was a Walk for Rice held on 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. Their dogs came 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, 22 community organizations and churches around Seattle distribute meals and food through ACRS sponsored nutrition programs.
“We’ve been a supporter of ACRS since 1997 and we are proud to sponsor the Walk for Rice,” said PMI Director of Corporate Responsibility Valerie Bone. “We see the benefit that ACRS brings to the community and the difference ACRS makes in all demographics and especially the Asian American community in the region and King County.”
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 22, 2019 at Seward Park. Visit www.walkforrice.org for details.