Time of Transition; Nippon Kan Homeless Meal Service, from the Mission Forward
October 21st, 2012
Homma Kancho began serving meals to the homeless at the Denver Rescue Mission 22 years ago. 22 years later, with close to 70,000 meals served, Homma Kancho was again at a crossroad.
In the summer of 2012, Homma Kancho noticed that there were signs that the staffing and kitchen conditions at the mission were increasingly in disarray. When we arrived for our monthly meal services, it was apparent that the sanitary conditions in the kitchen had been deteriorating. Homma Kancho is the owner of a Japanese restaurant in Denver and is well acquainted with health standards and sanitary compliance. He reported his concerns to mission staff after each meal service and also his safety concerns about the condition and storage procedures of donated food items on weekends.
It was common at the mission for many donated food items to arrive while we were serving the meals that we had prepared and transported to the mission. Many of these other food donations were delivered without donor identification and contained perishable ingredients such as mayonnaise or sour cream. At one of our meal services at the Mission, Homma Kancho came to me and said “The time for us to finish our service at the mission is coming soon”.
There also were many occasions at the mission where many expensive foods like hams, cheeses and other meats donated disappeared once donated. Homma Kancho was concerned about the lack of control and worried about our responsibilities under these conditions.
Volunteers, even volunteers who have been coming to the mission for 22 years, have little say at the mission. Some other short-term volunteers at the mission are there to work off court mandated community service requirements and a few of the mission staff seemed to feel they were doing the volunteers a favor by providing them the opportunity to volunteer. Recently, this attitude seemed to manifest with all volunteers no matter the purpose of their service.
In the 22 years of our service, the mission staff changed personnel dozens of times. Over the years, many of the staff were wonderful to work with, but in the last year, new personnel seemed less inclined to take advantage of our years of meal serving experience, instigating instead procedures and rules that were leading to a situation in decline.
Even with these concerns, our first priority was serving the homeless community, and many of our “regulars” looked forward to the third Sunday of every month to share in the meal we provided. These were the people we could not disappoint.
What looked to be inevitable finally occurred during the summer of 2012. Over 100 people were sent to the emergency room with food poisoning after eating donated turkey legs at the mission. Nippon Kan of course had nothing to do with this meal service however it was a tragedy none the less. After this incident occurred, the Denver Health Department came down hard on the mission with new procedures for the accepting and handling of donated food. Strict new rules and procedures were put in place for accepting and handling of all food donations. From then on, all foods needed to be inspected, temperature tested and logged. Another of the new strict procedural mandates prohibited any outside groups from providing and serving their own meals at the mission unless cooked by in-house staff.
Homma Kancho is the owner and head chef of one of the leading Japanese restaurants in Denver and is well aware of the importance of maintaining complete sanitary conditions in his restaurant. With these latest incidents at the mission, the decision was made to end Nippon Kan’s meal service at the mission in October 2012. It was time to find a new venue for serving the homeless community in Denver. Our purpose after all has been to serve the homeless in Denver, not a particular organization.
Nippon Kan has found two new places with good serving conditions and will begin our homeless meal service again in May 2013.
We thank the Denver Rescue Mission for providing us a place to serve the almost 70,000 meals we were able to provide for 22 years. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Nippon Kan General Headquarters Vice President
AHAN International Program Director
AHAN Nippon Kan Homeless Food Service Project Report
7/15―324 meals served
8/19―313 meals served
9/16―296 meals served
10/21―334 meals served
Total meals served since 1991: 68,238 meals served
Total Cost of Food Ingredients – Est $80,000
Volunteer Attendance Total – Est 5,000