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Mokuteki baristas 'pay it forward'
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- A cup displaying a representation of the Japanese sun and the words, "Donations for Japan relief," sits on the Mokuteki Cafe counter here April 5. The baristas unanimously made the decision to donate any tips made since March 11 to aid Japan, and on April 5 the cafe management handed a $1,691 check to Misawa's Red Cross station. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Joe McFadden)
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Misawa Air Base baristas pay it forward

Posted 4/12/2011   Updated 4/12/2011 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Erica Picariello
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

4/12/2011 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan  -- Coffee shop patrons are accustomed to supporting their favorite baristas by throwing a buck or two into their tip jar.

The baristas at the Mokuteki Café at Misawa Air Base, Japan, turned the tables, however, and have been doing the tipping.

Watching the devastating aftermath of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that ripped through Japan March 11, café workers here decided to give back.

"When you're here (in Japan) and you see the damage done, it hits home," said Amy Turner, Café Mokuteki barista. "We have a lot of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Japanese nationals coming through. We do what we can to support them by giving them food, but we still wanted to be able to do more."

The baristas unanimously made the decision to donate any tips made since March 11th to aid Japan, and on April 5th the café management handed a $1,691 check to Misawa's Red Cross station.

The Mokuteki was one of the only base establishments open after the earthquake, continuing to run on generator power. The café handed out free food and drinks to Misawa patrons.

"Finding food off base was near impossible," Ms. Turner said. "Most of the convenience stores and grocery stores on base were closed or sold out. We did what we could to make sure everybody was fed and was able to get a hold of friends and family members."

Mokuteki management not only noticed the influx of people patronizing their establishment but also an increase in tips.

"We had a lot of customers really appreciate that we were open 24 hours and had hot food, so the first couple of week we had $40 to $60 tips for one eight-hour shift," Ms. Turner said. "Management noticed that were making a lot more in tips throughout the week -- and asked every barista if we would be okay with giving up our tips to the Red Cross to support Japanese relief."

Each barista agreed to donate his or her tips, and their selflessness didn't go unnoticed.

"I think that what the Mokuteki has done is fantastic," said Michael Patton, Misawa Red Cross station manager. "They've supported the operation from the very beginning with free coffee and everything for the volunteers ... This is overwhelming that they are continuing to support the operation in this way."

Because the money is being donated directly to the Red Cross, the donation can be utilized immediately.

"This money will go to our national headquarters which funnels it directly into the Japanese Red Cross society so they can put it to use where they need it the most," Mr. Patton said.

Though the final donation amount totaled almost an entire paycheck for a new military non-commissioned officer, Mokuteki baristas didn't even blink when it came to the decision to donate their tip money to aid Japan because it was like helping family.

"This is my home," Ms. Turner said. "Japan is my home. I know that a lot of the other workers feel that way too. Even if they're not Japanese ... this place is really safe and calm. Misawa is a big family."

The Mokuteki baristas continue to save their tips and plan on making another donation in the coming weeks.

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