Coast Guard food pantry assists 1,000 people as shutdown continues
New London — Organizers of a pop-up food pantry at the Coast Guard Academy for those impacted by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history estimate they have helped close to 1,000 people since Monday morning and plan to keep it open through early next week.
The food pantry, organized by the southeastern Connecticut chapter of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association and the Coast Guard Enlisted Association of Southeastern Connecticut, has received a steady flow of people and donations all week.
The pantry opened Monday and will remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until Tuesday of next week.
"Recognizing we have a three-day weekend and that kids will be home on Monday, we want to make sure everyone has food to feed their families straight through the weekend," said Craig Breverman, an active-duty senior chief in the Coast Guard who volunteers as president of the southeastern Connecticut Chief Petty Officers Association.
Monday is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday, so schools will be closed.
On Wednesday afternoon, We Share Hope, a privately funded food bank in Warren, R.I., which provided the initial donation for the pantry, delivered another 12 pallets of fresh vegetables and fruit, milk, chicken and dumpling soup, an assortment of cheeses, and toiletries.
Perishable food items donated Wednesday by the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Bank in New London were gone within an hour. The organizers of the food pantry announced the donation in advance, and there was a line of people waiting when the truck showed up.
"It's clear that there's a need for it," Breverman said.
The Connecticut Humane Society said Wednesday that it was preparing to deliver a donation of pet food to the pantry on Thursday. The CPOA has also received monetary donations, which Breverman estimated to be "well over" $2,000. The money is being distributed to Coast Guard personnel who may need it for gas or other expenses.
Breverman said a wide range of people had made use of the pantry — "too many married couples to talk about," parents with teenagers and young children, junior Coast Guard personnel, families who've just moved to the area, and more "established" Coast Guard families, who've been in the area for a long time.
"We don't know what's going to happen," said Teresa Hembrough of Essex, whose daughter and son-in-law both serve in the Coast Guard. Her daughter works in New Haven, and her son-in-law, who works in New London, is preparing to head to El Paso, Texas, to help out at the border, she said.
Hembrough, who moved to Connecticut to help the couple take care of their two young sons, said the pantry was helping to relieve some of the stress of both her daughter and son-in-law not being paid this week.
"This is a blessing," she said.
She'd picked up her grandsons, Christiano, 8, and Gabriel, 6, from school in New London Wednesday afternoon and went straight to the pantry, where she estimated they picked up $150 worth of food. She joked that the boys had sneaked some items into the shopping cart without her noticing.
The partial government shutdown, now in its fourth week, is impacting about 800,000 federal workers, including the nation's 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members, who missed their first paycheck Tuesday.
"To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our Nation's history that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in government appropriations," Adm. Karl Schultz, head of the Coast Guard, said in a statement Tuesday.
Schultz also announced a $15 million donation from USAA to the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, a nonprofit that provides interest-free loans to Coast Guard personnel.
The Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, which remains unfunded during the shutdown. The budget for the Department of Defense was approved last fall.
The U.S. House on Wednesday passed a Democratic measure to reopen the government through Feb. 8, but it appeared dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The White House said President Donald Trump will veto the bill, calling it unacceptable without a broader agreement to address what Trump calls a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump on Wednesday signed legislation guaranteeing that furloughed workers would receive back pay when the shutdown ends.
In the wake of the shutdown, businesses and organizations are stepping up.
The academy's alumni association on Wednesday announced that it is launching a $150,000 campaign to help support Coast Guard personnel and their families during the shutdown. The alumni association said the money will go equally toward buying gift cards for cadets, who are considered active-duty personnel and receive a stipend, and others impacted at academy, as well as donations for the food pantry and to the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance fund.
Groton Public Schools alerted families "who may be having a difficult time financially with the government shutdown" that they may now qualify for free breakfast and lunch. The school district said to call its Food Service Department at (860) 449-7208 to determine eligibility. Thames Valley Council for Community Action is also assisting people affected by the shutdown, including helping them pay their energy bills. Local banks are also offering to help. Chelsea Groton Bank said people affected by the shutdown may be eligible for relief in the form of fee rebates, waived fees and access to cash. Charter Oak Federal Credit Union said it also may be able to help its customers affected by the shutdown. Webster Bank is offering interest-free loans to essential federal employees in Connecticut who aren't being paid during the shutdown.
Those looking to donate to the food pantry at the academy can email sectcpoa@gmail, or stop by Leamy Hall at the academy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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