breaking news

McIver guilty of felony murder, other charges

Puerto Rico food aid from Ga. contractor sparks outrage


When families in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico asked for food, a Georgia company answered the call with candy bars.

Baby Ruths, to be exact. Also fruity Airheads candies. Cheez-Its and pop-top tins of barbecue flavored potted meat came on the side.

Photos of this box of disaster relief food — labeled as “meal modules” — went viral on Twitter in recent days, igniting outrage among thousands who are already angry over the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico Sept. 20.

Government contractor LongBranch Partners, LLC, which is stamped in red on the box with a location in Ellijay, 80 miles north of Atlanta, has been subject to particular scorn.

Pedro Lugo, 32, of San Juan, said he received the sweet and salty snacks Thursday as part of the first food aid his apartment complex has received from FEMA since Maria struck. The assistant librarian lives across the street from a FEMA headquarters and saw workers in FEMA T-shirts deliver the boxes, he said.

“How can people pass this off as nutritious?” said Lugo.

FEMA spokesperson Ron Roth said in a written statement that the box’s contents are a “snack pack” and not meant to replace a full meal. “Meal module” is LongBranch’s terminology, not FEMA’s, he said.

“We have cancelled future orders for these packs and the remaining inventory will be distributed to the portion of the survivor population that can use the snacks effectively,” Roth said.

Details on what LongBranch was paid to provide the food were not immediately available, Roth said.

Company’s prior owner mistakenly targeted

Repeated attempts to reach LongBranch’s owner by telephone and through his company’s registered agent were unsuccessful. The company is listed in an online database as a U.S. Department of Defense contractor that has received millions of dollars to provide supplies such as food and tarps.

The box of mostly junk food touched a raw nerve with Puerto Ricans who complain that they are being treated as second-class citizens in the aftermath of Maria. Power outages continue and some grocery store shelves remain bare.

Food aid is a recurring source of frustration. During an Oct. 24 public appearance, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz rummaged through chocolate pudding packages in a box of FEMA rations and tossed it away in apparent disgust, according to a Washington Post report.

Twitter users retweeted one photo of Lugo’s relief food 12,000 times. One mistakenly posted a purported phone number for LongBranch’s owner that actually belongs to Steve Pigott, a Canton man who said he sold the company in 2005 and has never been a part of the company’s government contracts for disaster relief. Callers have harassed him repeatedly.

“They say, ‘How can you send something so bad to Puerto Rico?’ It’s very nasty stuff,” Pigott said. “When I’ve explained what happened, they’re sympathetic and apologetic.”

State business filings list the company’s member as Jeff Fudge, whose address is a Florida post office box. Its registered agent — the official who receives legal filings and communication for the company — is located in the Atlanta area.

‘Insulting and a little degrading’

FEMA food contracts call for meals that provide starch, vegetables, and protein and total more than 700 calories, Roth said. They are supposed to be “culturally appropriate” for Puerto Rico and include utensils. The label on Lugo’s box said it contained 12 servings each of entrees, starches, fruits and deserts, according to a photo.

“The Cheez-Its, I think, is the starch. Maybe the nuts in the Baby Ruth count as protein or something,” Lugo said. “For someone who doesn’t have anything eat, that would be very offensive.”

Disaster experts have said in media reports that in the short term, candy bars and other non-perishable junk food can be an important source of nutrition because they have wide appeal and are easy to get.

But these experts don’t have to eat this food, said Gabriela Maraver, 26. A box she received included a can of Hormel corned beef hash, Cheez-Its, three packets of Saltines, a Rice Krispies treat and a packet of Texas Pete hot sauce. She does not know whether her box came from a nonprofit or U.S. contractor, but a post from a Facebook user that she provided showed other food aid boxes from LongBranch falling apart in the sun.

“It was just kind of insulting and a little degrading,” said Maraver through a cell phone she charged with a solar panel.

Her power has been out since Hurricane Irma, which blew past Puerto Rico in early September.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

DJ Avicii’s family issues statement on his death, thanks supporters
DJ Avicii’s family issues statement on his death, thanks supporters

The family of Swedish dance music DJ Avicii has issued a statement days after his death. >> Read more trending news  Variety reported that the family of Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling, thanked fans and others for their support. Bergling was found dead in Muscat, Oman, a city in the Middle East, April 20. The cause of death is not...
Macaulay Culkin doesn’t watch ‘Home Alone’ much, won’t make iconic face
Macaulay Culkin doesn’t watch ‘Home Alone’ much, won’t make iconic face

If fans run into Macaulay Culkin and ask the star to make his signature “Home Alone” face, they’re going to be disappointed. People reported that the actor, 37, who is best known as a child star who played Kevin McCallister in the 1990 holiday comedy says his notoriety makes him keep his head low around Christmas time. >>...
Beyonce adds Morehouse College to scholarship program 
Beyonce adds Morehouse College to scholarship program 

Beyoncé is awarding another set scholarships to historically black colleges and universities, and one includes Morehouse College. » RELATED: Beyoncé, Google announce more HBCU scholarships Last week following her Coachella performance, the star announced her BeyGOOD initiative would be awarding $100,000...
Kyle Plush case: Body cameras show cops stayed in car during search for teen dying in van
Kyle Plush case: Body cameras show cops stayed in car during search for teen dying in van

Body camera footage from two Cincinnati police officers’ search for a 16-year-old teen who was crushed to death by a seat in his minivan earlier this month shows the officers never left their patrol car while they looked for the teen. The footage shows the officers driving past the parking lot where Kyle Plush was dying on their way to search...
Florida judge does not return to courtroom after berating frail inmate who died 3 days later
Florida judge does not return to courtroom after berating frail inmate who died 3 days later

A Florida judge who berated a frail inmate who died three days later will not return to the bench, court officials said.  Circuit Court Judge Merrilee Ehrlich will not return to the bench after her treatment of Sandra Twiggs, 59, who appeared before her last week on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, Broward Chief Administrative Judge Jack...
More Stories