Giving Back in a Time of Unexpected Need

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Day 21 of the partial federal shutdown also marked an anxiety producing first for many government employees and contractors: the first Friday without a paycheck since the furlough began.

In the face of this grim milestone, 80 volunteers converged the food bank’s distribution center, rolled up their sleeves, and got to work. The project they had shown up to help with was another first: packaging 30,000 pounds of produce for pop up grocery distributions that would operate the next morning specifically for those whose federal offices had been shuttered, or who were working without pay.

In addition to the college students, corporate groups, and service corps members helping out, there were also volunteers with a very personal connection to the day’s activities.

Alethea Boss, who works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is one of the region’s 362,000 federal employees. She was on hand out of a desire to help others who might be experiencing hardship. While Boss has savings now to see her through the shutdown, she remembers when that wasn’t the case.

“When I was working in New York City earlier in my career at a different GS level, I was living paycheck to paycheck,” said Boss. “I remember quite well what that was like. You never know what’s going to happen in your life, and I’m here volunteering because I want to give back. I want to give back to the country that I love by giving back to people”.

As Alethea put onions into bags, Pamela Leftrict, a policy analyst with the EPA, packed carrots and apples nearby.

Pamela noted, as she packaged the food, that she would also be among those coming to pick up some of the fruits and vegetables the next day. Like many federal employees and contractors, she is concerned about making ends meet and is seeing her budget stretched increasingly thin with no income.

“I need the extra help right now,” she said. “This is a scary time for me, especially because I have a child at home. Volunteering makes me feel like I’m contributing, like I’m giving something back for what I receive.”

She’s planning to bring her son to volunteer as well, she says, because she feels it’s important for him to see how people can help each other. She’s also spreading the word about the food bank’s pop up distributions to other people she knows who are affected by the shutdown.

“I’m telling them ‘this is not your fault’,” she said, though she’s finding that many in her situation are not yet willing to seek assistance.

“I guess you never think you’re going to be the one who needs help. But sometimes we’re closer than we think.”

Beginning 1/12, the food bank will be operating weekly free grocery distributions for federal workers and contractors until the shutdown is over and workers are once again receiving paychecks. In addition to these distributions, federal employees can seek food through the food bank’s network of partners; a searchable directory can be found here.