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Catholics volunteer at food pantry during shutdown

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In October 2013, Laura Bandini was furloughed from her job during the federal government shutdown. She made the best of the unfortunate situation by volunteering alongside other furloughed federal employees. “I was still able to do public service (and it’s) really important that people be able to stay engaged in that pursuit,” she said.

As the current partial government shutdown drags on, thousands of federal employees watch and wait to see when they might return to work. Bandini and others from her parish, Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington, invited them to volunteer at the thrift store and food pantry. The people who came were grateful for the chance to give back, said Bandini. “So many people in our parish are impacted by it,” she said.

As part of the parish labor and income inequality ministry, Bandini is worried, especially for those in financial straits. While many people will receive the paychecks they missed when the government reopens, non-governmental employees may not. “Contract workers most likely won't get any back pay — cafeteria workers and janitors,” said Bandini. “We hope anybody who’s (in need) will reach out to their parish community for help.”

House of Mercy, a food pantry and thrift store in Manassas, has yet to serve federal employees affected by the shutdown, said Executive Director Jessica Root. But they’ve received some inquiring calls, particularly from those worried aid programs such as SNAP and WIC may not be funded. The Department of Agriculture announced Jan. 8 that they will “ensure that low-income Americans have access to the nutrition they need.  The plan provides full benefits for participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the month of February.”

However, with so much uncertainty, House of Mercy wants to be as prepared as possible. Capital Area Food Bank expects a 10 percent increase in requests, said Root. “I’m not sure if that's comparable to us or not, but we have a lot of government workers out here,” she said. “January and February are already hard months for most food pantries because people don't have a lot of money after the holidays.”

House of Mercy is requesting food donations and is letting government employees know that its doors are open. “If you find yourself in need of food, please call or stop by,” the organization announced in a press release.

Some Catholic schools, such as St. Bernadette in Springfield, are trying to ease the burden of financial uncertainty by letting federal employees delay tuition payments. “If your income is affected by the government shutdown, please email our business manager and let her know that you need to have your January payment held temporarily. Also, if you would like to get your cafeteria/playground duty accomplished, please sign up or call,” wrote Principal Barbara Dalmut in an email to parents.

At Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, about 20 families have opted to delay upcoming tuition payments, said Director of Finance Lisa Ring. “We do have quite a few who are either contractors or work for the government. We want people to feel free move it to another date to take the pressure off. I've gotten quite a few calls and some nice emails (from parents who are grateful that we’re) thinking of the families,” she said. “I just hope it ends soon — there's a lot of stressed out families.”

Patricia Cuadros, a parishioner of St. Timothy Church in Chantilly who works for the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, spent the first part of the shutdown on a previously planned vacation. Since she’s returned, Cuadros has spent time reading at the local library and checking out which businesses and organization are offering discounted items or activities to federal employees.  “I saw in Alexandria there’s a free knitting class, so I might go and make furloughed friends,” she said.

Cuadros isn’t too stressed about finances yet. “I live with my brother and we’ve been able to rotate around the finances so that it's his turn to cover the bills and rent. However, there’s only so much of a cushion that I have,” she said. Depending on the length of the shutdown, she might try to be a substitute teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools. “It does feel worrisome,” she said. “I have friends who have kids and mortgages who say, ‘We’re going to need some money pretty soon.’ ”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019