Customers wait in line outside a restaurant opened by chef Jose Andres for federal workers and their families during a partial government shutdown in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Customers wait in line outside a restaurant opened by chef Jose Andres for federal workers and their families during a partial government shutdown in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Americans nationwide feed federal workers during shutdown

It’s like one giant government bread line — except for government workers.

  • Tim Carman The Washington Post
  • Wednesday, January 23, 2019 8:06am
  • Nation-World

By Tim Carman / The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — They are the workers whose jobs serve the people of the United States. But as the partial government shutdown enters its second month with no apparent end in sight, thousands of government employees now are relying on the people of the United States to help them feed their own families. It’s like one giant government bread line — except for government workers.

The outpouring of support has been widespread and creative, high-profile and grass-roots. For every relief kitchen opened by José Andrés and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen — the celebrity chef and humanitarian recently said more kitchens are coming after the first one debuted here last week — there are countless small markets and programs.

Restaurants and chefs, of course, have been giving away free or discounted food, including a cruise line in Florida that has opened a pair of boats to federal workers so they can dig into a free lunch buffet. But now farmers markets, food banks and other organizations are finding ways to help workers who haven’t received a paycheck since December.

A farmers market in Greensboro, North Carolina, is matching every dollar that a federal contractor or furloughed employee spends, up to $50, essentially extending supplemental food stamp benefits to government workers. A relief agency in Philadelphia is, for the first time in its history, enacting a disaster plan to help feed federal employees. The Capital Area Food Bank, which usually helps low-income residents in the Washington area, has expanded its assistance to include “pop-up markets” at Giant Food stores to pass out free groceries to furloughed feds. Even a nonprofit health-care system in southern New Jersey has started an emergency food drive.

The website My FED Benefits has created an interactive assistance map to help workers in every state find programs to support them through the shutdown.

On Jan. 13, a few Washingtonians teamed up to launch one of the more creative relief efforts: PayItFurloughed.com is a site that allows anyone to buy furloughed employees a beer at one of three District breweries. It was developed by Mess Hall food incubator founder Al Goldberg, food writer Nevin Martell, web and app developer 3Advance, and publicist Erick Sanchez. To date, more than 3,850 beers have been donated from people far and wide, including those living in Australia, Singapore, the Netherlands and elsewhere, Martell said. Just as important, more than 1,550 of those quaffs have already been enjoyed.

PayItFurloughed is designed not only to express compassion to hard-pressed federal employees but also to help small craft breweries, which can’t bottle or can new beers because the government doesn’t have the resources to approve labels, Martell said.

“Buying someone a beer is such an American thing to do,” Martell said.” ‘You’re having a bad day? Let me buy you a beer.’”

Martell said that he and Goldberg — who each invested $1,000 in the project — are looking to expand PayItFurloughed to other cities and regions, probably starting with the suburbs around Washington, where other small breweries could participate. Purchased beers will remain available for a week after federal employees receive their first back paycheck, Martell said.

If any remain after that, Martell added, the beers will be put “on virtual ice until, unfortunately, we go through this all over again.”

And speaking of expansion, Andrés released a video over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend to say that World Central Kitchen will be expanding the #ChefsforFeds relief program that launched last week at ThinkFoodGroup’s test lab at 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Andrés has not yet revealed all the locations for the next kitchens, although World Central Kitchen is soliciting restaurants, food trucks and nonprofits for the expansion. Andrés did not immediately return a phone call and text for comment, but late on Tuesday he announced on Twitter that the #ChefsforFeds program would add more than 30 eateries in 12 states, plus the District and Puerto Rico. The expansion will help World Central Kitchen exceed the 6,000 to 8,000 federal workers that the nonprofit and its partners have been feeding each day in Washington.

“We’ve been receiving a lot of phone calls from different federal workers, asking for help,” Andrés said in the Twitter video. “So #ChefsforFeds … will be opening other kitchens across the country. We believe this is a national food emergency. And we will be there for the American federal workers.”

The Nobel Peace Prize nominee then wrapped his video by trolling the president.

“This is our action to make sure nobody will be hungry, President Trump,” Andrés said. “What are you doing about it?”

Incidentally, Martell, of PayItFurloughed, said two people from Mexico have donated to the cause. Mexicans may not fund the border wall that has been the flash point behind the longest government shutdown in history. But they’re willing to buy a few beers for the government workers who have been affected by this skirmish over a wall.

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