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A Cornucopia of K Rations

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Last winter's operation Desert Storm has turned into this fall's Thanksgiving harvest for schools, homeless shelters, and other organizations in need of aid.

During the Persian Gulf war, the Department of Defense planned for 60 days' worth of food for 500,000 hungry troops. The brevity of the conflict resulted in an unexpected but welcome benefit for civilians at home.

Finding themselves with more than $300 million in surplus food and sundries, defense officials decided to turn the leftovers into a peace dividend called Operation Desert Share.

Over the next several months, tons of canned vegetables and fruits, frozen meats, rice, cake mix, and toiletries will make their way from military supply ships to civilians in need through the General Services Administration, the federal agency charged with the daunting task of coordinating the effort.

As the supply ships dock, the food is inspected and sent to federal and state agencies, which then allocate the goods to nonprofit organizations. Ultimately, the camp cuisine finds its way to soup kitchens, church pantries, day-care centers, and drug- and alcohol-treatment centers nationwide.

Numerous schools are also the lucky recipients of approximately one fourth of the soldiers' fare. Several states, including New Hampshire, Utah, Missouri, and Massachusetts, are participating.

Kathryn Gaddy, a spokesman for the G.S.A., calls Operation Desert Share "the only model of its kind" and is at once proud of and amazed at the 1ogistics of distributing the equivalent of approximately 70 million meals.

She says that all of the recipients thus far have praised the quality and quantity of the food, although she does remember one comment from a student on discovering K rations on her cafeteria plate.

"She said she didn't like the green beans," Ms. Gaddy recalls, "although she liked everything else." --S.K.G.

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