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Puerto Rico food aid from Georgia contractor sparks outrage

Willoughby Mariano, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA -- 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 on Sept. 20.

Government contractor LongBranch Partners, LLC, which is stamped in red on the box with a location in Ellijay, Ga., 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 last 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 spokesman 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 canceled 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.

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.

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