KAHULUI - More than 10,000 ready-to-eat meals are now in the hands of Maui County disaster response organizations, thanks to a donation by the federal government.
On Wednesday morning, a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft from Barbers Point on Oahu flew in 19 pallets of the meals ready to eat, or MREs, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Oahu.
The food was a welcome sight to officials from the Salvation Army, who are part of the Maui County Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster group, which received the donation.
Salvation Army Kahului Corp staff members Cliff Spencer (left with hat) and Dan Merritt chat with others as they wait Wednesday morning for ready-to-eat meals to be loaded into their truck at the Kahului Airport. Nineteen pallets of the meals were brought to Maui from Oahu by a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
"It really helps us. . . . We are so overwhelmed now. We need all the help we can get," said Cliff Spencer, disaster relief coordinator for the Salvation Army.
Spencer said that out of the five pallets of delivered meals the Salvation Army Kahului Corps received, most of them will go toward disaster kits and for Salvation Army workers and volunteers who offer their services during times of crisis.
But some of those meals will be used in the agency's homeless outreach program.
Spencer said the meals are convenient because homeless people don't have to worry about cooking the food.
In turn, Spencer said the money the agency would have used for the disaster kits and the homeless meals can go toward other programs, such as giving food and supplies to needy families.
The Rev. Paul Kaneshiro, chairman of the Maui County Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, said the Maui organization, made up of different groups such as the Salvation Army, was offered the meals from FEMA and quickly accepted.
He said that although the meals have gone beyond their expiration dates, they are still suitable to eat because they still have a shelf life of several more years. The meals do not meet FEMA standards, however. So instead of discarding the meals, FEMA gave them away.
"FEMA is cleaning out old MRE's, but they're still good," Kaneshiro said.
He said that with the assistance of the state and Maui County Civil Defense along with help from the Coast Guard and Air Guard, the meals were transported to the Valley Isle for free.
The Maui County Fire Department was a recipient of 10 pallets of meals.
"In any event of a disaster, we can maintain and feed our personnel," said Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga, who watched as the pallets were unloaded at the airport. "When something hits the island, there's no place we can get food. We are trying to plan ahead for that."
Mainaga said that even when crews work long hours battling brush fires or handling long dragged-out incidents, firefighters can normally go out to buy food at a store or a restaurant. But if a disaster were to strike, the stores and restaurants would not be open, he said.
Mainaga said the meals will be held in a storage area in Waikapu. He added that, by getting the donation, it also saves money for the department and the county in general.
Other organizations that received some of the food were Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the county Office on Aging, state Department of Health and Maui Memorial Medical Center, officials said.
Kaneshiro, who is pastor at Pukalani Baptist Church and a Maui Police Department chaplain, stressed that although organizations are receiving these meals, it doesn't mean that when a disaster hits, the meals will be given to the public.
He said that when shelters are opened during a disaster, residents are required to bring their own food and supplies.
Kaneshiro advised residents that every family should have disaster kits handy. One should at least contain food, water and emergency supplies to keep at home, and residents should have another "go pack." The pack should be prepared in case one has to evacuate their homes. The pack should also contain food, medicine and water as well as important papers, he said.
"Everyone needs to get ready," Kaneshiro said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.