For local volunteers, this is a disaster happening in slow motion. Volunteers and staff at Prodisee Pantry stood by federal employees last week as they waited, hoped and prayed until Congress passed …
For local volunteers, this is a disaster happening in slow motion.
Volunteers and staff at Prodisee Pantry stood by federal employees last week as they waited, hoped and prayed until Congress passed last-minute measures Saturday night that kept the lights burning in the government for 45 days and kept their paychecks flowing.
But it's just 45 more days.
The limited measure means Nov. 17 could mark the last paycheck federal employees receive in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, maybe even Christmas if legislators drag out negotiations.
Prodisee Pantry staff say they have kept an eye on the fluid situation, but their preparations remain the same: help those in need at any time for any reason.
Volunteers at Prodisee Pantry stepped in during the last government shutdown, which lasted 35 days, from Dec. 21, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019, the longest in history.
A large part of their clientele was young Coast Guard families who went unpaid despite federal efforts that put measures in place to continue pay military members. The Coast Guard falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense. During past shutdowns, its members have not been protected by legislative measures.
"Many of them are young families. They need diapers and formula, and they really are living paycheck to paycheck," Servos said. "That really hurts when you miss a paycheck and then the situation is drug out for 30 days."
Servos said her organization is especially situated to help federally employed families because they may not qualify for other aid programs.
"We were designed to fill the gap. As a community ministry, we don't want anyone to be hungry," she said. "We are all here because most of our volunteers have been in the same shoes."
While federal employees have been given room to breathe, for now, a breakdown in federal budget negotiations in the coming weeks may mean a difficult holiday season for the nearly 2 million people across the nation who work for the federal government.
As the deadline approaches, Servos said Prodisee Pantry will begin reaching out to local federal offices and Coast Guard commanders to spread the word that help is ready and available. Prodisee Pantry is also able to connect families with services that may be able to help with utilities and other needs. If needed the pantry will arrange for special pickup days for federal employees.
She said it is important for families, especially those who are uncomfortable asking for help, to know that they deserve help.
"It's important for folks to feel confident that we will treat them with respect. It is not a shameful thing to ask for help, this is considered a disaster," Servos said. "We know this is not long term and there will be a solution at some point but if this drags on you can't always take from one budget to cover another. If this goes 14, 21, 30 days, that's a huge hit to any family budget."