Students form group to aid Japanese victims

A day after a catastrophic 9.0 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami rocked the coast of Northeastern Japan, a group of five Japanese international students at Santa Monica College formed the Neighborhood Fund with hopes of helping those back at home. This past weekend, the group, now 80 members strong, raised a total of $5,500 during a two-day 8-hour effort at Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade and famous landmark pier. 

Led by Associated Students Commissioner of Publicity Hiroki Kamada the Neighborhood Fund is only one of several groups to emerge at SMC in the aftermath of the quake but has manifested as the largest and most proactive thus far. 

"Neighborhood Fund is not like a huge organization that gives others orders… it's like the place people go and like, share information," said Kamada of his group.

Of the 80 members involved in its fundraising efforts, all but eight are SMC students, and among the group's members are those who have come from the region of Japan affected by the disasters and ongoing nuclear predicament.

Armed with Japanese candies and hand-made donation boxes, the Neighborhood Fund set out Friday and Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. capitalizing on the weekend tourist crowds that flourish throughout the promenade and pier. However, the effort wasn't free of small hurdles along the way. 

In what is perhaps a sign of the times, the student group came into conflict with another group seeking donations for the crisis in Darfur. Additionally, much of the fundraising was met with much public skepticism in light of the recent warnings of fundraising and donation scams that have emerged since the disaster occurred. 

But the group was in fact working via an agreement they signed in which every penny raised will be donated to the American Red Cross. John Pacheco, the Chapter Executive Officer of the American Red Cross in Santa Monica confirmed the group's involvement with their chapter.

"Some people ignored us, some people made fun of us because we had some crappy boxes and it doesn't look professional," said Kamada, explaining how his group had put together everything from home. 

And despite raising a significant amount of funds in such a short time, those in the Neighborhood Fund are still somber when thinking about the still more than 15,000 people missing in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.   

"This is just the smallest amount of the things that we can do but I hope it might help people out there," said Kamada.