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Local funeral directors gather supplies for Japanese colleagues

POSTED March 25, 2011 9:54 p.m.

The earthquake and tsunami which ravaged Japan have now, officially, killed more than 10,000 people, according to the Japanese National Police Agency. As the search through rubble and wreckage continues, that number is likely to double or triple, as more than 17,000 remain listed as missing.

While much of the relief effort is, appropriately, focused on the living, another problem has quickly become clear, according to Ben Sivils, assistant manager at Turlock Memorial Park & Funeral Home.

“The grim reality is that, once they've gotten things under control over there, they're going to have start taking care of those loved ones who lost their lives,” Sivils said.

Already, Japanese funeral homes are struggling to deal with the demand, with funerals scheduled months out and crematoriums working night and day. One of the most pressing needs, however, is that of supplies: Japan is critically low on body bags and embalming powder.

Enter Sivils and the Valley Lode Funeral Directors Association, who are gathering those supplies to send directly to Japan.

The concept of taking collections for Japan arose at a Valley Lode Funeral Directors Association quarterly meeting. The group, comprised of funeral directors from Merced to Calaveras and San Joaquin counties, eventually turned the topic to the recent disaster.

“Someone said, ‘Oh, did you hear Japan is running out of body bags?’” Sivils said. “I asked, ‘Is there anything we can do to get some stuff over there?’”

A few funeral directors decided to form a committee to send supplies directly to Japan, sidestepping the country’s diminished manufacturing capacity in the days following the quake.

In just a few days, the effort has already gathered close to 300 body bags, with more possibly on the way.

“There's been a lot of help,” Sivils said. “It was just something that was a need, and it seemed like the rescue effort was under control.”

A vendor stepped in and negotiated with a manufacturer to deliver body bags for the effort at cost. And, when the supplies ship in a week or two, they’ll do so free of charge, thanks to U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham’s (R-Atwater) office.

“There's not much you can do or say to these families and they're all in the same boat,” Sivils said. “In any tragedy like this there's nothing that you can say that can make it any better but the fact that you are there and you are extending even the smallest amount of help is going to make us closer as nations.

“That's what this country is all about: helping people,” Sivils said. “We've always helped people.”

To donate to the effort, contact Ben Sivils, care of Turlock Memorial Park and Funeral Home, 425 N. Soderquist Rd., Turlock, CA 95380, or call 632-9111.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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