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Frozen Food Left Over From Desert War Will Help Feed the Needy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

During the Persian Gulf War, soldiers on the front lines were rationed food in foil-lined plastic pouches called MREs, or Meals, Ready to Eat--which tasted so bad that they were dubbed Meals Rejected by Everyone.

But the leftover food from Operation Desert Storm that arrived in Ventura County on Monday is a far cry from the infamous MREs.

Destined for distribution to thousands of needy residents of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, more than 15,000 pounds of frozen scallops, egg rolls, corn on the cob, codfish, bologna, liver and cauliflower were stacked in huge freezers at the warehouse of FOOD Share Inc., the county’s major surplus food clearinghouse. The food would have been used to feed troops behind the lines had the war continued.

Under Operation Desert Share, about 1,500 pounds of the shipment will go to the Santa Barbara Food Bank, a FOOD Share affiliate, said Susan Hixon, a FOOD Share spokeswoman.

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The rest of the surplus food will be picked up beginning Friday by volunteers from soup kitchens, homeless shelters, churches, and group and foster-care homes throughout Ventura County, Hixon said.

“This food is badly needed, and it’s good timing,” Hixon said.

Shelves and warehouses at FOOD (Food On Our Doorstep) Share’s Oxnard headquarters are traditionally at a low point during the summer months, she said.

“There’s a lot of need out there, not only because of the economy and the drought but because of the time of year, especially with kids out of school,” Hixon said.

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“It’s a blessing,” said Bob Sharp, a FOOD Share volunteer and board member.

FOOD Share distributes food to about 89,000 county residents a month through 240 nonprofit agencies, including those with programs for senior citizens and for families needing food on an emergency basis.

The federal General Services Administration is donating surplus military food through Operation Desert Share to the national Interagency Council on the Homeless.

The council is giving the food to the Second Harvest National Food Bank Network, which is distributing it nationally to 180 food banks, including FOOD Share.

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About $3.5-million worth of surplus military food will be distributed nationally through the Desert Share program, according to Second Harvest officials at the organization’s Chicago headquarters.

Although Ventura County’s shipment did not include MREs, some western food banks have received shipments of them to distribute to the needy, Second Harvest distribution official Liz Belkin said.

In Ventura County, the shipment of food that arrived Monday will be distributed only by agencies that prepare and serve food on-site, including churches and soup kitchens, Hixon said.

Another 15,000 pounds of food, which arrived on the truck with the county’s shipment, was destined for Los Angeles, officials said.

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Late Monday, FOOD Share officials received word that they will get a second shipment of military food later this week or next week, Hixon said.

Officials did not know the amount of the second shipment but said it will consist of dry food such as cereal and beans.

“I don’t know how long it will go on or how many shipments there will be,” Hixon said, adding that the food will be available to FOOD Share’s member agencies as long as it lasts.

“We’re just really low right now,” Hixon said. “We’re grateful for whatever we can get.”

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