During a hurricane, when power lines are down and even the water supply is cut off, dinner usually means opening a can of beans or Spam.
But for many locals who don’t consider it a meal unless there’s rice, Jing Si Instant Rice might take the edge off an emergency. No need for a rice cooker, the stove or even the microwave. It takes about a cup of water to turn the dehydrated rice into a flavorful, nutritious meal or side dish.
This Thanksgiving, at least 2,000 seniors who depend on meals from Lanakila Pacific will receive Jing Si rice in emergency food kits for the first time, along with a traditional turkey meal delivered to their doors.
The rice, enhanced with seasonings and dehydrated vegetables, is being donated by the Pacific region branch of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, an international humanitarian organization based in Taiwan.
“The beauty of this rice is, if there’s no electricity, you can still have rice. You can pop open a can of something and have a meal,” said Rona Fukumoto, CEO of Lanakila.
She said the rice tastes good and is nutritious all by itself, and it’s easy for the nonprofit’s elderly clients to prepare. They can make one serving at a time in a bowl: just add water to the rice and seasoning packet, stir and let it soak. The rice fluffs up in 15 to 50 minutes, depending on whether they use hot or cold water.
Johan Alwall, deputy director of the local Tzu Chi office, said the foundation is donating almost 500 pounds of rice to Lanakila, a $4,800 retail value, at Fukumoto’s request. They became acquainted as members of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
Lanakila is the first nonprofit to receive the Tzu Chi rice in such a quantity, but the foundation has distributed it to disaster relief victims, including during last year’s Big Island volcanic eruption. Alwall said other organizations may contact Tzu Chi’s office; other collaborations are welcome .
Alwall was surprised at the amount of interest shown in the Jing Si rice, a japonica rice grown in Taiwan, at the 10th annual Hawaii Rice Fest Sept. 28 at Ward Village. The foundation sold all 80 bags at $6 each; each bag contains 10 ounces of rice divided into four servings, roughly half a cup per portion when reconstituted. Four vegetarian flavors with soy protein were available for sampling at the festival: broccoli brown rice, mixed vegetables, tomato and herb, and the corn, which Lanakila will be receiving.
“I think it’s both the flavor and the overall concept,” Alwall said. “It’s so versatile and convenient.” Beyond emergencies, the rice is handy, and makes a quick meal when you come home tired late at night.
Tzu Chi’s office is in the Hawaii Tzu Chi Academy in Kaimuki, which includes a Buddhist temple. But its roots are in Taiwan, where Master Dharma Cheng Yen founded Tzu Chi in 1966.
“It’s a very special monastery,” Alwall said. Yen vowed to take no donations, requiring her disciples to work to support the foundation.
She got the idea to dehydrate the rice in 2006, after noticing how heavy regular rice was to carry, especially for the elderly or weakened victims of disaster, and how difficult it was to prepare if they lacked power or cooking equipment, he said.
The nuns at the monastery, cook, dehydrate and package the rice for shipment all over the world.
“The nuns are super concerned with quality, so they make sure everything is fresh and nutritious. They wanted it to be more than (something like) instant cup of noodles, not something you can eat just to get full, but that would bring a benefit to the person who uses the product,” Alwall said.
LORI LAU, director of Lanakila’s Meals on Wheels, said this is the second yearthe program has been providing emergency food kits , aiming to deliver them at Thanksgiving and in the late summer, before hurricane season.
Most of the seniors they serve are homebound, and because of mobility problems or lack of transportation, choose not to evacuate to Red Cross shelters during disasters, she said. The supplies — including two large, collapsible bottles that can be used to store tap water — should last several days.
“We want to make sure they have something when we’re not able to deliver their meals,” she said.
For many of the seniors, Meals on Wheels is their primary source of nutrition as well as human contact, which some appreciate more than the food, Lau said. In Hawaii, 1 in 6 seniors is going hungry and lacks nutritious food — occasionally, volunteers have found that the only food in the house is dog food, she added.
Quite often, the meal deliverers are the only ones doing regular wellness checks, and they’re first on the scene to call 911, she said. “It’s not common, but it happens enough to keep me up at night.”
WHERE TO BUY
Jing Si Instant rice sells for $6 for four servings:
>>Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation: 1238 Wilhelmina Rise; call 737-8885 for donation requests
>>Order online: Individuals may order via jingsi.shop.
Jing Si Instant rice sells for $6 for four servings. Find it at the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, 1238 Wilhelmina Rise; call 737-8885 for donation requests. Order online via jingsi.shop. To donate to Meals on Wheels, email email@example.com or call 356-8519.