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Japanese Students and Honda Volunteers Keep Los Angeles Disaster Ready

by Sandy Van, Communications Volunteer

On Jan. 3, 2015, 20 visiting high school students from the Miyagi Prefecture in northeast Japan -- one of three major regions flattened by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami in 2011 – joined more than 130 Honda Community Action Team volunteers to fill 2,500 Red Cross Los Angeles comfort kits at an event sponsored by American Honda.

For the students whose schools, communities and even family members were swept away in the disaster, this was a symbolic exercise of gratitude for the disaster relief they received from the Japanese Red Cross and other international Red Cross affiliates. The Red Cross provided warm blankets and critical first aid services from Red Cross-deployed doctors, nurses and volunteers, as well as help in reconnecting with displaced family members.

The comfort kits -- each stocked with a mini first aid kit, flashlight and disposable towelettes -- will be kept on hand in Red Cross Los Angeles Region disaster response vehicles for victims of house fires and other disasters.

The afternoon event at Honda’s Torrance headquarters was part of the automaker’s 12-day cultural exchange program created in support of the post-earthquake’s U.S.-Japan Council Tomodachi Initiative that aims at fostering bonds of friendship, community and respect for future generations and Japanese and Americans, according to Erik Wedin, manager of Corporate Community Relations at Honda.

“One of the things we really wanted to share with the students was Honda’s philanthropic nature and share with them our philosophy of giving back to the communities where we work and live,” says Wedin.

The program is in its first year of a three-year commitment to bring Japanese students from each of the three major prefectures devastated in the quake to the U.S. Honda employees also served as host families to the students for three days of their stay.

“Our associates are very philanthropic-minded and like to help those in need when disasters strike. Since the Red Cross is really the first responder for disasters in the U.S. and all the world, we just feel like Red Cross is a good partner for us,” said Wedin.

Honda’s support of the Red Cross dates back more than 20 years totaling more than $4.4 million. Gifts have been notably for major disaster relief efforts, including the 2011 Japan quake and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The company has also offered in-kind gifts of industrial-grade portable generators to keep the lights on throughout disaster relief efforts.

“From Red Cross volunteers and members of the military to foreign aid organizations … the students were very touched that so many people cared so much about them,” said Wedin. “I think that really had an impact on them, and they appreciate the opportunity to come here and give something back,”

Red Cross Los Angeles Region Corporate Partnerships Director Stephanie Pell said, “Arranging for the Japanese students to participate in such a large-scale volunteer engagement opportunity to build Red Cross comfort kits shows how much Honda cares for the community and those people impacted by disaster.”