Pop-up pantry helps Coast Guard families impacted by shutdown
New London — Fifty-two-year-old John Hoxie, who works in ground maintenance at the Coast Guard Academy, plans to go to an employment agency in Norwich to inquire about work until the partial federal government shutdown, the longest in history, is over.
"At the beginning, it was nice having time off, especially around the holidays, but now it's becoming stressful with no end in sight," the Plainfield resident said Monday. "It's hard to get a loan and the creditors want their money."
The Coast Guard is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is unfunded during the shutdown, which is affecting about 25 percent of the federal government. Other branches of the military fall within the Department of Defense and remain funded.
About 160 of the 260 government-funded nonessential employees at the academy are furloughed. Ground maintenance, facilities maintenance, secretarial staff, and support staff are not at work.
The majority of the remaining 100 employees, who are coming into work, but without pay, are faculty. Active-duty Coast Guard personnel have been reporting to work but without pay.
To help those impacted by the shutdown, the southeastern Connecticut chapter of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association teamed up with the Coast Guard Enlisted Association of Southeastern Connecticut and the Coast Guard Spouses' Association of Southeastern Connecticut to transform the lounge in the academy's Leamy Hall into a pop-up food pantry, open to anyone impacted by the shutdown.
"Military members have a natural inclination to give. It's not natural for us to take," said Craig Breverman, an active duty senior chief in the Coast Guard who volunteers as president of the southeastern Connecticut CPOA chapter. "In case of bad weather this weekend, we want them to have food in their pantries."
Breverman said there had been a steady flow of people coming to the pantry since it opened at 8 a.m. Monday. He saw "quite a few" spouses, some with children in hand, newly minted Coast Guard personnel such as a young guy who'd just graduated from basic training, and senior personnel.
"All of this stuff has to go. Take as much as you need," Lauren Laughlin, a spokeswoman at the academy, told people as they walked through the door Monday to pick from the rows of tables filled with food items such like cereal, pasta and granola bars, dog and cat food, and household items like paper towels.
Breverman said that when the southeastern Connecticut chapter found out the Boston CPOA was opening a pop-up food pantry to support those impacted by the shutdown there with help from the nonprofit We Share Hope in Warren, R.I., it reached out to the organization to see if it could help. On Saturday, the nonprofit delivered 12 pallets of food.
Breverman was preparing to answer a flurry of requests from other CPOAs around the country, asking for guidance on how the pantry at the academy was put together.
Hoxie, the grounds maintenance worker, said he found out about the pantry Monday morning and came over to stock up. He and his wife have a 14-year-old daughter, "so we still have to put food on the table." He said they've had to cancel some of their daughter's sports activities such as swimming and horseback riding because they can't afford to pay for them.
Hoxie said civil servants like him usually would have gotten paid sometime between Friday and Monday. Active-duty Coast Guard personnel are on a different pay schedule and were expected to miss their first paycheck on Tuesday.
"It's an uncomfortable experience to be like, 'I work but I'm not getting a pay check,'" said Laughlin, a petty officer second class in the Coast Guard.
Her daughter's 12th birthday is coming up, and she had planned to have an indoor swimming party, which would not have been a problem under normal circumstances. Instead, she is having a slumber party at the house, and is thinking about how she can make it nice without spending too much money.
"My daughter should not be worried about whether she can have a good birthday party," she said.
The academy's athletic department has also been affected.
Employees of the department who are considered non-essential are furloughed, such as members of the media relations staff and equipment managers, as well as the academy's head trainer.
Coaches, meanwhile, many of whom are faculty members, are working without pay, including those in season. In addition to their usual duties, coaches are assisting in other areas, such as doing the laundry for their teams in the absence of equipment room personnel.
Other members of the athletic staff are paid with non-appropriated funds, or non-government funds, allowing them to receive salaries. One member of the staff reported that the athletic department seems to be conducting "business as usual."
Said one coach, who asked not to be identified: "For me, I can pitch in and do my job for the Coast Guard or start complaining. Whether you're civilian or military, the Coast Guard is a family-oriented organization. I've heard no one complain. Not a soul. I'm not wearing an enlisted uniform, but you stay here because of the cadets.
"We have to have this organization running. People pitch in," he said.
If you are interested in donating to the food pantry, email email@example.com.
Day Staff Writer Vickie Fulkerson contributed to this report.
How to help and get help
What: Pop-up food pantry for those affected by the government shutdown
Where: Coast Guard Academy's Leamy Hall, New London
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Thursday
Donations needed: Non-perishable, commercially prepared and packaged food, personal hygiene supplies, and dog and cat supplies