Government Shutdown 2013: Furloughed workers volunteer during time off

With the possibility of going weeks without work or pay, some furloughed federal employees are using their time off giving back to the community.

On Tuesday morning, one group from Montgomery County got their hands dirty in Silver Spring.

At 9 a.m., instead of being at the office, attorney Nate Spiller was outside, on the ground, caring for trees. Normally, he would be answering a flood of calls from the justice department.

"Easy thing to do. It gets you out of the house, gets you meeting other people. A furlough is very isolating," said Spiller.

Like Spiller, USDA employee Ed Murtagh needed to stay busy, after the government put his daily routine on hold starting October 1.

Murtagh said, "It helps me provide an outlet for my energies. I'm very active, and it helps support something i feel strongly about."

They were part of a larger group of volunteers who, while they're not working for Uncle Sam, turn to calls from Mother Nature.

"It's a labor of love," said Conversation Montgomery Volunteer Caren Madsen.

Mulching and hammering fertilizer into the soil, they tended to trees planted at least a year ago by the non-profit, near the intersection of Seminary Road and Georgia Avenue.

The organization serves as a local environmental steward. Volunteers Tuesday came together in a unique way, all wearing badges that read "essential."

"This was just to say we are essential whether we're at the office or not...and we're essential to the environment," said Madsen.

Meanwhile, they had another message to get out, this one asking lawmakers to cut through the gridlock.

"Reopen the government, don't mess around with the debt limit, and do it for as long as possible because no one wants to be in this situation two months from now," said Spiller.

Another volunteer environmental activity may be in the works for Friday, but organizers hope that all federal employees are back at work before then.

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