By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Local families in need this holiday season will get some kokua from what seems an unlikely place — the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA has donated nine pallets of Humanitarian Daily Rations (HDRs) to help homeless and otherwise disadvantaged Big Islanders. Those pallets arrived Tuesday by Young Brothers barge at the 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 employed in Afghanistan, HDRs are designed to be air-dropped into war-torn hot spots without parachutes. They cost about one-fifth the price of the military’s Meal, Ready-to-Eat or MRE. Each packet contains two meals consisting of vegetarian entrees like 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 local 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, East Hawaii chairwoman of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, or VOAD. She said the expiration date on the meals in the shipment is May 2014.
“FEMA told the state VOAD that whenever they have stuff that they have to recycle out, they generally offer it to the state VOADs and the nonprofit agencies that form VOAD,” she said. “A couple of years ago it was tents, this time it’s the HDRs. They have stock that they have to rotate because of federal regulations.”
Bond said she was notified of the HDRs’ availability “a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving” and had been working on getting them here through the state and county Civil Defense agencies — whose assistance she described as “instrumental” — and through Young Brothers, who shipped the consumable cargo free of charge.
Chad Brunner, Young Brothers’ Hilo port manager, estimated the value of the shipping at “$400 to $500.”
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.
“We actually have regular donations from (the Army’s) Pohakuloa (Training Center) but they’re the bigger meals,” she said. “You can actually serve 25 people with one pack of rice and Salisbury steak, things like that. We use those for our soup kitchens. We’ve never really given out the small packets but we’ll make this a part of the community food distributions that we do.
“On Saturday, we’re going to be doing a community distribution in Pahoa and we’re going to be giving out these.”
Abiley said the distribution will be from 10-11:30 a.m. in the parking area by the skate park above the Pahoa Community Center.
The meals will benefit needy families islandwide through the Food Basket and other organizations such as the Salvation Army and Kona’s University of the Nations, Bond said.
She added that there are a bargeload of people to thank for the holiday care packages, but foremost are Young Brothers and Civil Defense.
“The guys at both state and county Civil Defense really stepped up,” she said. “They got the paperwork in front of me and 24 hours after I got the paperwork done, I got approval from Young Brothers.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.