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FEMA donates food to feed Big Isle’s hungry

Updated: 
December 18, 2013 - 10:18am

Families in need this holiday season will get some kokua from an unlikely place — the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA has donated nine pallets of humanitarian daily rations to help homeless and otherwise disadvantaged Big Island residents. Those pallets arrived by Young Brothers barge Tuesday at Hilo Harbor.

The HDRs, 4,320 of them in all, are food rations designed to be delivered during humanitarian crises. Each HDR is hermetically sealed in a deep pink package, which hails it as a “food gift from the people of the United States of America.” Each package is intended to serve as a full day of food for one individual and contains about 2,200 calories.

First used in Bosnia in 1993 and currently distributed in Afghanistan, HDRs are designed to be air-dropped into war-torn hot spot without parachutes. They cost about one-fifth the price of the military’s MRE, or meal, ready-to-eat. Each packet contains two meals consisting of vegetarian entrees such as lentil or barley stew and red beans and rice, and a snack, including shortbread, fig bar or peanut butter and crackers. The packets also contain a book of matches, but not the flameless ration heaters found in MREs.

HDRs have a shelf life of three years, and FEMA has made them available to victims of domestic disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They’ve also been made available from time to time to the poverty stricken in the U.S. through food banks and organizations such as the Salvation Army.

“These are timing out, so they have to clear their warehouse so they can get new stock in,” said Suzi Bond, Big Island chairwoman of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters. She said the expiration date on the meals in the shipment is May 2014.

It’s believed to be the first time HDRs have been made available on the Big Island, Bond said.

“Two pallets are going to CERTS — Community Emergency Response Teams,” she said. “The rest will go to the Food Basket and Hawaii Island United Way so it can go to the needy, the homeless and the disadvantaged. Part of it will go to school kids who are on Christmas vacation who normally just eat at school and otherwise wouldn’t have much to eat at home.”

Joann Abiley of the Food Basket said the food bank has distributed MREs in the past but not HDRs.

The meals will benefit needy families islandwide through the Food Basket and other organizations such as the Salvation Army and University of the Nations, Bond said.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.