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Two Years After Operation Airlift Japan: An Update on the Orphans You Supported

A little girl at Bikou-En Orphanage visits with Santa this past Christmas. (Misawa Naval Air Facility image)

Last Monday marked two years since the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, which means two years since we launched Operation Airlift Japan. In March of 2011, we got a call from a military wife named Gemini Sanford, a former Everett resident who is stationed in Misawa Japan, who told us the orphanage they support was desperate of supplies.

We put the call out for donations and you gave. We collected over 40 tons of toys, food, clothing, blankets and supplies for the Bikou-En Orphanage, and several months later, Ron and I went to Japan to meet the kids.

Two years later, we wanted to see how those kids are doing, and give you a report, since you donated so many things to them. I called Gemini, who is still living on the Misawa Naval Air Base.

“I go to the orphanage at least once a month,” she said.

She still sees your donations everywhere.

“When it’s cold we see the jackets, when it’s hot we see the T-shirts. We see the jeans, we see the toys, we see the pretty things in the little girls’ hair. I think they’ll still be used for many years.”

Many of those donations went to other orphanages in the region, and to families in harder hit areas who desperately needed those supplies.

“For instance, we went down to Miyagi not too long ago. We saw a bunch of Seattle shirts that, I know for a fact, because I unpacked those, came from the Ron & Don Nation.”

Gemini says the same little boys who were excited to get brand new baseballs and bats and the same little girls who were dressed in donated Disney princess costumes are still living at Bikou-En.

“It is harder to get them adopted. Not only that, but it’s harder to support that orphanage because they don’t get any kind of state or government funding. So if you have a large flock of your population who is trying to rebuild their own lives, unfortunately the last thing they’re thinking about is helping to support these orphanages.”

She says a lot of people in the hard hit areas, where their towns were completely destroyed, are still living in the one-year shelter kits given to them right after the disaster.

“It looks like a tent. They’re not necessarily the best for the cold weather and I know in Misawa, where we are, we had 187 inches of snow so far this year. That’s when we start to get a little bit worried and we really try to amp up our humanitarian efforts because it gets cold and those shelters aren’t necessarily made to withstand super cold weather.”

Gemini says debris from her town has made its way to the Pacific Northwest.

“Misawa Pier, that was destroyed, actually it just washed up somewhere in Portland, believe it or not. So it’s still making it’s way across the world. There will still be effects for a long time to come.”

Monday morning, on the Luke Burbank show, he interviewed oceanographer Dr Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who has been collecting things that have washed up locally, and made huge efforts to return the items to their owners in Japan.

“If it has writing on it, I have some really good translators. If you can get a name, I contact Kyoto News down in Los Angeles, who are just like bloodhounds. They can find people. I was on hand for a basketball that washed up in Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. It had the name of the high school. I took a picture and sent it down to Kyoto News, got it translated, and before you knew it the Kesennuma middle school, who had lost the basketball, were just elated. It energized that community so much to know their basketball was coming back.”

Kesennuma is in the Miyagi prefecture, the area some of your donations went to.

If you would like to send a gift or donations to the kids at the Bikou-En Orphanage, please contact Gemini Sanford at

If you find any Japanese items, that have washed up locally, and want to get them back to their owner, you can contact Dr Ebbesmeyer here:

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