Updated Jan. 29
The Vineyard’s Portuguese-American Club put on a gratis, all-you-can-eat fish fry dinner for U.S. Coast Guard and TSA personnel Thursday night, and received a lot of eager eaters.
Until the recent capitulation of President Trump on border wall funding, employees of both the Coast Guard and TSA had been left financially hamstrung by the longest government shutdown in history. The Island community continues to step up and assist cash-strapped federal workers. Of the many Coasties in attendance at the fish fry, including command staff, none could speak with The Times.
Coast Guard headquarters has put the kibosh on “doing interviews regarding the shutdown,” Petty Officer Zachary Hupp, a Coast Guard spokesman, said. On Tuesday, Hupp said an embargo on comment from Coast Guard personnel continues post-shutdown. As of Monday, Jan. 21, no TSA personnel would talk with The Times either. They, too, are under a gag order, but “so appreciate the outpouring of community spirit,” Martha’s Vineyard Airport assistant manager Geoff Freeman said. Calls to the TSA media office weren’t immediately returned on Tuesday.
“Personally, there were a lot more people here than I thought were going to show up,” Meghan Smith, president of the USCG Spouses Association, said happily. It wasn’t just the stormy weather Smith thought might deter attendance.
“I think it’s hard for some of them to accept the help,” she said. “You know there’s a big pride piece to it.“
Smith is married to Petty Officer Adam Smith, whom she met in the third grade, and they have a baby girl named Ellie, and another baby due in April. In the bustle of the P.A. Club bar, she read to The Times the mission of the newly formed association she heads: “To provide a friendly atmosphere which will promote the morale and well-being of our service personnel and their families, to engage in charitable and social activities decided upon by the members, and to provide educational information in areas of concern for our Coast Guard families.” She added that presently the association is focused on the morale and well-being of Coast Guard families.
“[For] the men and women at the station — this [shutdown] is obviously not ideal — but it’s business as usual.” She went on to say the Coasties there embrace the philosophy of “service before self.”
Technically, she stressed, the association has no association with the Menemsha crews.
“We’re not affiliated with the Coast Guard,” she said.
Nevertheless, donations to the association, which is a nonprofit, make their way to Menemsha Coasties, but that’s a choice being made by the association, not Coast Guard members. The association accepts checks, gift cards, gas cards, food, and merchandise. It also has a PayPal account. Association donation drop boxes are located the Mansion House, Vineyard Tax Matters, Menemsha Texaco, Chicken Alley, and shortly, the VFW Hall. Checks don’t necessarily need to be deposited in a donation box, Smith said. They can be mailed to the association at 20 Edy’s Island Way, Chilmark, 02535. Smith said donations will also be allocated to TSA personnel.
Smith extended thanks on behalf of the association to June Manning, longtime friend of Station Menemsha, for coming aboard as the association’s community liaison to Martha’s Vineyard Bank for help in completing forms and paperwork needed for the association to open a bank account, to the “amazing” Island Food Pantry, and to the Holy Ghost Society which runs the P.A. Club.
“Our hope is that once our families are back up on their feet, that we’re going to give back to the community,” she said. “Part of our purpose was being charitable within the community. So our hope is to do fundraising and things like that, and to give back to the people who’ve been helping us.”
The temporary lift of the government shutdown has not blunted generosity from the Edgartown Police Department. Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee said his department gave just over $3,000 worth of donated gift cards to Vineyard Coast Guard families on Sunday. He suggested time will tell if more donations will be necessary.
“I don’t know if we’ll be revisiting it in three weeks or not,” he said.
Updated with comments after the shutdown ended.