Mainers affected by the partial federal government shutdown greeted Friday afternoon’s report that the federal government will reopen for three weeks with relief and a little anxiety about what comes next.
“That’s definitely a huge relief. Fingers crossed that they resolve it in three weeks,” Heidi, the wife of a Coast Guardsman stationed in midcoast Maine who has asked that her last name not be used because she fears reprisals, said when she heard the news. “Oh good. Oh, my God. It has been a long month.”
Her husband was one of more than 400,000 federal employees who have had to work without pay for the duration of the partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22. About 380,000 federal workers also were furloughed without pay during the shutdown, which is the longest in the nation’s history.
The temporary nature of the reopening did give some people cause for doubt that the problems that caused it to be shut in the first place could be fixed in that time.
Jim Roberts, the operations manager at the Randall and Collins Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Belfast, organized a GoFundMe campaign to support Coast Guard personnel who are assigned to Belfast. The campaign caught fire, raising much more than its goal of $1,500 in just two days. He said that after paying for No. 2 heating oil, propane, kerosene and groceries for Coast Guard families, there is still $800 left.
“We’re going to sit on it and hold it in reserve, just in case,” he said. “I’m not relieved yet. This is just very, very temporary. It’s a wait and see. Paydays are typically the first and the 15th of the month, and no one knows if there’s pay coming in the next 24 hours, 48 hours. There’s absolutely no answers right now.”
The VFW’s fundraising effort was just one of the ways that midcoast Mainers have worked to try to keep furloughed federal workers and Coast Guard service men and women from going hungry or otherwise suffering during the shutdown. Restaurants, businesses, organizations, banks, churches, municipalities and ordinary citizens have offered free meals, groceries, services and much more to folks who have been feeling the pinch from the shutdown.
Albert Sionni, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7738 in Bath, said that his post didn’t hesitate when members saw that the Randall and Collins VFW Post in Belfast was running an online GoFundMe campaign to help Coast Guard personnel who work in Belfast. The campaign had a goal of $1,500, money it would use to provide fresh vegetables, meat, bread, pet supplies and more to the servicemen and women, and that’s how much the Bath post gave.
“We’re trying to reduce the impact as much as possible,” Sionni said. “As a community in Maine, we can all come together and help out. That’s something I love about Maine. If your neighbor needs help, you help them.”
The generosity of Mainers has been appreciated by affected federal employees. On Friday morning, before the news came that the government would reopen, Heidi told the BDN that the food, toiletries and other items donated to the station are helping families like hers get through a belt-tightening few weeks. It hasn’t been easy to accept this kind of help, she said, especially knowing that her husband will get paid eventually for the work he is doing now.
“We’re just lucky to be in such a great community,” she said. “People really seem to be stepping up right now, which is so awesome. Thank you to the wonderful community we live in.”
At the Lincolnville General Store, staff knew that some people have a hard time accepting what they perceive to be charity, so they decided to let affected workers set up a line of credit at the store as well as offering them free hot meals.
“We’re happy to set up a house account for necessities or anything, really. We’re trying to be accommodating and flexible to help folks who are essentially collateral damage in a political standoff,” store manager Ladleah Dunn said, adding that community members have been sharing the news and offering to purchase gift cards to help. “We’ve had a wonderful response. It’s really overwhelming. For us, I feel that’s what a general store has the opportunity to provide its community in times of struggle. It feels really good to pay it forward.”
Even pets of furloughed federal employees were not overlooked by Mainers during the shutdown. Customers of the Loyal Biscuit, a pet store with five locations in Maine, have donated pet food and funds so that anyone missing a federal paycheck can still pick up supplies for their furry companions.
“It’s really kind of snowballed. At first were going to offer the ability to pay us back once they got paid,” Loyal Biscuit operations manager April Thibodeau said Friday morning. “But what has happened is that our customers have been calling us, coming in and buying bags of dog food and asking how they can help. The customers have kind of taken over at this point.”