Retired Marine has a new mission on Okinawa: Helping locals in need
By AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 18, 2018
NAHA CITY, Okinawa — A group founded by a retired Marine and his wife collects thousands of pounds of food and hundreds of toys each year for Okinawans who would otherwise go without during the holidays.
Christopher and Yuko Nesbitt founded Help Oki in 2014. Christopher, a New Jersey native who retired as a sergeant that year from the 3rd Marine Division’s Headquarters Battalion at Camp Courtney, made his home here with his wife, who’s from the island.
He said a chance meeting with a homeless man at an apartment complex in Naha had a great impact on him. The Nesbitts spotted the man digging through some trash on a cold, rainy day. Christopher Nesbitt choked back tears remembering what happened.
The man had only a flip-flop on one foot and the other was bare, Nesbitt said. “I offered him my shoes I was wearing and the money I had with me. I had to do something for him.”
The incident, Nesbitt said, changed his life and inspired him to help the less fortunate.
Not many organizations worked directly with local communities in need at the time, he told Stars and Stripes. So he founded one of his own.
“I really wanted to help [those] who were less fortunate,” he said, “like the homeless guy.”
Help Oki donates anywhere between 1,100 pounds and a ton of food to local food banks each month, said Tiffany Tuckett, an Air Force spouse who serves as Help Oki’s food-donation coordinator. Donations come from U.S. servicemembers and Okinawans.
The Girl Scouts of Camp Courtney and Camp McTureous recently collected 1.2 tons of rice, canned goods, cereal and other nonperishable items that Help Oki forwarded to Food Bank Second Harvest, Tuckett said. Nesbitt drove to Naha on Dec. 6 in a rented a truck to donate the items.
Another pair of volunteers, Marine Staff Sgt. Austin DeMoney and his wife, Tiffany, last year collected more than 460 toys for Help Oki, a figure they more than matched this year with 650 toys. But they’re leaving Okinawa this month for a new assignment.
“I am so happy that we finished collecting the toys … before we leave the island,” Tiffany DeMoney said. “Hopefully someone will take on this great project.”
Laura Stafford and Sabrina Cicchi from the Marine Officers Spouses Club Okinawa donated toys for a Help Oki-sponsored Christmas party this month for nearly 80 orphans ranging in age from 1 to 18 years old.
“I want to make the place better than it was when I leave,” Cicchi said.
Help Oki threw another holiday party Sunday for single parents and their children. The group plans to host another Saturday for disabled children.
Those interested in donating or helping can contact Help Oki via the organization's official Facebook page.