Updated January 16
The budgetary impasse between President Donald Trump, who has demanded billions to seal off the United States from Mexico with a wall, and congressional Democrats, who’ve rejected the idea, has resulted in the longest federal shutdown in history. Some of the casualties of this shutdown can be found right on the Vineyard at U.S. Coast Guard Station Menemsha, where 25 Coasties went unpaid on Jan. 15. Station Menemsha Officer in Charge Justin Longval told The Times in December that many of the people working for him are “living paycheck to paycheck” and have families. The U.S. Coast Guard was able to muster capital to pay its personnel on Dec. 31, but “they made it very clear that it was a one-time payment,” Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Andrew Barresi said.
Coasties must regularly contend with hard-to-find costly housing on the Vineyard, in addition to high food and gasoline prices. To offset one of these, pallets of food from the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation have been delivered to Station Menemsha since well before the shutdown began.
“We do that every month for the kids, because they can’t afford the price of food over there,” Massachusetts Military Support Foundation president Don Cox said. Cox says the foundation regularly sends a pallet over to Nantucket Coasties, too. In support of Coasties during the shutdown, he said, the foundation has set up food pantries in Boston, Cape Cod, Kittery, Maine, Portsmouth, N.H., and New London, Conn. (at the Coast Guard Academy).
Martha’s Vineyard Bank president and chief executive officer James Anthony told The Times his bank is well aware of the plight of local federal workers, and is willing to lend them a hand.
Anthony said the bank is prepared to suspend payments “for whatever loans they might have with us.” He said such suspensions could last the duration of the shutdown or longer, depending on when workers receive back pay from Uncle Sam. He also said the bank would “waive any overdraft fees they might experience.” Last, he said, the bank is willing to look at personal bridge loans for those who may want them.
Cape Cod 5 Cents Savings Bank is also doing its share to support those affected by the government shutdown. According to a press release, the bank is offering a one-year no-interest Government Employee Assistance Loan Program, along with a $30,000 donation to the Cape Cod Military Support Foundation.
Half of the $30,000 donation will fund the transportation and distribution of food and supplies to local military families and other government employees. The remaining $15,000 will be granted over the next two years in support of the foundation’s continuing programs.
“Cape Cod 5 is committed to doing whatever we can to support those who are out of work and struggling to make ends meet during the government shutdown,” president and CEO of Cape Cod 5 Dorothy A. Savarese said in the release. “These circumstances remind us of the importance of coming together as a community to provide assistance to local individuals and families in need.”
Island Food Pantry managing director Kayte Morris said the food pantry has added extra hours to accommodate federal employees who might not be able to come in during the day. The pantry is already open Saturdays from 10 am to noon and Mondays and Wednesdays from 2 pm to 4 pm. The additional hours will be Thursdays from 5:30 pm to 7 pm. “We want to make sure we are open at a time TSA and Coasties are able to come,” she said.
The pantry has evolved from a prepacked bag dispensary to a minimarket that provides “a huge variety of foods” including fresh and frozen vegetables, meats, milk, and eggs, she said. In addition, the pantry also stocks diapers and toiletries.
A challenge to getting folks to patronize the pantry is the perception that it’s somehow undignified to go there, government shutdown or not, she said.
“We’ve really embraced the concept of dignity as a fundamental right, as much as food is a fundamental right,” she said. To that end, among other things, pantry staff are extraordinarily kind and compassionate, and maintain strict confidentiality, she said. In addition, no documentation is required to receive food. The pantry operates on an honor-based system.
“If you’re hungry and need food, we’re there to help you,” she said.
For those wishing to donate to the pantry, in addition to food itself, even modest monetary gifts go a long way, Morris said. Since the pantry purchases food from the Boston Food Bank at deeply discounted prices, “[w]e can buy a case of something for what folks typically pay for a can in retail,” she said.
Mocha Mott’s has also jumped in to help Coasties during the shutdown by dishing out free coffee and food to any member in need of a hot bite and a little caffeine.
“We have a good connection with the Coasties going way back,” Mott’s manager, Scott Hershowitz, told The Times. “We thought it would be the right thing to do, seeing as the Coast Guard does so much to protect and serve us.”
Mott’s even has a special coffee blend called the “Coast Guard brew” that they created in 2014. Hershowitz said many hard-working people are in “pretty tough situations” and deserve some support. “This is the first time in U.S. history that a military organization hasn’t been paid,” Hershowitz said. “We’ll do anything we can to help these good folks get by until the shutdown is over.”
For Hershowitz, the gesture is a meaningful one. “These people put themselves in incredibly dangerous situations; they are out on the water in the worst conditions imaginable. They are saving lives, and aren’t even getting paid for it.”
Mocha Mott’s joins other local businesses like J.B. Blau’s restaurants, Trader Fred’s, and Vineyard Grocer in extending a helping a hand to federal employees who are not getting paid.
Airbnb also recently announced the “Night on Us” program, a new initiative to support federal executive-branch employees in Massachusetts and nationwide who share their home or an experience on Airbnb during the ongoing federal government shutdown.
According to the Airbnb website, “All executive-branch employees who share their home for three nights anytime over the three months, between Dec. 18, 2018, and March 18, 2019, will get paid an extra night on us — up to $110, which is the average per-night income of our U.S. hosts.”
Reporter Lucas Thors contributed to this report.
Updated to include additional aid to Coasties from businesses.