Government Shutdown 2013: Church food pantry helps furloughed workers

HUNTINGTOWN, Md. (WJLA) - Just days after the shutdown started, food pantry workers at a Calvert County church said they started getting phone calls and emails from furloughed federal workers asking for help. Nearly a week later, they welcomed them to a special food distribution event on Monday afternoon.

Federal worker Cliff Vodeicka came to pick up food. He said, “Let's hope the guys on the Hill can get this taken care of and get us back to work. Because we all work paycheck to paycheck sometimes.”

With support from the organization End Hunger In Calvert County – the Chesapeake Church food pantry planned to open its doors to federal workers starting at two o'clock.

But many came early, even stood outside in heavy rain. And by 1:55 p.m., volunteers had already served 20 families.

Food pantry manager Debbie Weber said that just shows how desperate families are feeling. “People are hurting,” she said. “And they're just not sure who to turn to.”

No I.D.s were checked to verify government employment. Instead, visitors were greeted with shopping bags and smiles.

Program Director Robin Brungard said, “Our philosophy is, if you come in and say you have a need, we're going to serve you.”

Many of the federal workers who showed up said they had never visited a food pantry before – never thought they would need to ask for help. Even though they could use help during this shutdown, they said they still felt conflicted about it.

“It's humbling. It really is,” said Vodeicka. “I see people going through here and hoped I'd never need to do it but here I am.... God is taking care of us, so we're here to let him take care of us.”

Kelly Hauhn has volunteered at the food pantry four years. But for the first time, she ended her volunteer shift on Monday taking a bag for herself. A Department of Agriculture employee, she too has been furloughed.

Hauhn said, “It's outside your comfort zone because you don't expect it.”

Chesapeake Church Senior Pastor Robert Hahn said he hopes lawmakers in Washington will see the pain their causing and realize hunger is a bi-partisan issue.

The pastor said, “Both sides are worrying about their political future and they're forgetting the human present. So we're here to stand in that gap.”