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Japanese Americans deliver bento box lunches to pay respects generations who came before

The group delivers about 70 bento boxes every third Tuesday of each month from Weiser, Payette, Ontario, Vale and Boise.

ONTARIO, Ore. — May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month. This week, we are shining a spotlight on some of the members in our community who are of Asian or Pacific islander descent and the impact they're having in our community.

In Ontario, on every third Tuesday of each month, the Snake River Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League gets together and prepares bento boxes.

A bento is an all-in-one Japanese lunch box. From the rice to the tempura, Salmon, Japanese style pickled vegetables and butter mochi, the group prepares the meals and then delivers them. 

“Over the years we've averaged about 70 each month and it gets delivered to people that have signed up for the program we go to Weiser, and Payette, Ontario, Vale, and Boise,” said Mike Iseri, the treasurer for the Snake River JACL.

Howard Matsumura is the scholarship chair. He told KTVB, making these bento boxes and then delivering them to those who came before them, is their way of showing their gratitude for all of the sacrifices the generations before them made, so they can have the lives they do. 

“There are a lot of our seniors over here, some of them are in care homes, or they're not as mobile as they used to be, and don't always have access to Japanese American style comfort foods,” Matsumura said. “So, our thought was, if we could do that at least once a month, that would show our gratitude.” 

The group started the bento program in 2014. 

“Their responses are almost universally gratitude, they're so happy to have the contact number one, and number two to receive some foods that they might not necessarily have access to anymore on a regular basis,” Matsumura said. 

They add, it's more than just delivering food, with each delivery comes an interaction that feeds their soul.

“It's something that I know, they look forward to and so do we as the delivery people,” Iseri said.

“As time has gone by, our Japanese American population has diminished, younger folks grow up, go to college, and go to work somewhere else so around this area, we don't always see the numbers of Japanese American or Asian Americans that we used to when Mike and I were growing up here,” Matsumura said. “I guess if there's a message, you know, it's that is that we're, we're trying to respect our heritage and respect our ancestors that sacrifice so much for us.”  

Iseri told KTVB, many of the members have been friends for 40 years, some even 70 years and it's a privilege to do activities like the bento delivery with old friends. 

JACL is a national organization that represents and protects the rights of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans, as well as supports the legacy and heritage.

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