Nurel Storey and his colleagues from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) like to give back to their community. They sometimes volunteer at Philabundance – a food bank in Philadelphia – and on 22 January, they spend the evening together for packaging food for seniors in the area.
But because of a record-shattering government shutdown that lasted for more than a month before Friday – albeit temporarily – federal employees who are usually donors and helpers at food banks have been relying on them to eat.
I have heard about the IRS workers who volunteered at Philabundance on Tuesday for attending the food bank's emergency market for the federal workers next morning.
"You've worked for 10, 20, 30 years for the government," said Storey, an officer for the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 22. "And all of a sudden things have just been shut off, "
Some 800,000 federal workers have missed out on a month's income due to the government shutdown. As credit card bills, rent checks and mortgage payments are paid to government employees who have been furloughed or worked between paying and choosing between groceries or diapers, food banks across the country and the people who are not accustomed to leaning on charity.
And, even though the shutdown is now over, the politicians spend three weeks trying to find a deal on border security, the prospect of it starting again in mid-February.
When Minnie's Food Pantry in Plano, Texas, held a distribution for federal workers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the nonprofit's founder and CEO Cheryl Jackson told volunteers that if they fed one person, that would be good.
But some 80 families collected boxes to feed 226 people in their households. Jackson said all the government employees who came that day were newcomers.
"The food pantry and any other charity program is the last place they want to be. Let that be the message, "Jackson said.
When the Greater Chicago Food Depository is distributed enough food for 200 families to Chicago Midway International Airport on Tuesday, They then brought an additional 250 boxes to Midway on Thursday. Between workers at the Coast Guard, a federal prison, and Chicago's two airports, the depository delivered a total of 1,295 food boxes to government employees this week alone.
His executive director and CEO Kate Maehr said she spoke with one federal worker who had actually participated in the food bank. "In her words, 'I've always been on the giving side. I've never been on the receiving side ', "Maehr said.
As US food banks have tried to accommodate an unforeseen and immediate need, their money and resources took a hit. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank was expected to spend an extra $ 100,000 per week on the shutdown.
All of this belongs to a context where many food banks are already stretched. When the great recession hit in 2008, demand for food assistance is skyrocketed, and at least some parts of the country, it never went down.
In Chicago, Maehr's food bank continues to feed between 800,000 and 900,000 people annually (which six weeks ago, she noted, was not a news story). Because of lost jobs and changes in manufacturing, she has said that the economy recovered.
Michael Flood, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, said demand for food assistance went up 40 percent in one year during the great recession. Even as unemployment has dropped in California from more than 12% in 2010 to 4.2% in 2018, the need for food has yet to decline dramatically.
In some parts of the country, food bank organizers did not receive a change when federal employees did not receive their first paycheck. Elsewhere, the urgency came when the government workers realized they were probably going to miss another.
"Losing one paycheck is difficult," Storey said. "Losing two paychecks can be catastrophic in some areas."