Locals rally to help workers hurt by government shutdown

By SHERIDAN ROY

STAFF WRITER

As the partial government shutdown continues, Southington’s community service organizations stand ready with open arms to serve the families and individuals who have been affected. Southington Community Services, Bread for Life and the Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA offer assistance to government employees who are not receiving pay at this time.

“I think this community wants to make it as easy as they can for anybody being affected by this shutdown,” said executive director of SCS Janet Mellon. “We don’t know how many workers live in Southington and we don’t know if they realize they are eligible for assistance. We want them to know we can help.”

Not that there is ever a “good time” for a government shutdown, but both SCS and BFL reported this is the time of year where they have plentiful donations ready to give. Donations typically come in in great numbers during the holiday season, so shelves are stocked at this time.

“They can come in five days a week to our food pantry and anything in our refrigerator, where we usually have yogurt, cheese and milk. One day a week they can come in for meat and pastries,” said Mellon. “We can stay open later than our regular business hours per-request. We are very accessible to anybody who lives in Southington and needs help.”

Mellon added energy assistance programs are available, and are based on the last four weeks of energy service.

“Anyone is encouraged to come in and see what else they may be eligible for,” she said. “We are open to just about anything to make their lives a little bit easier.”

Executive director of BFL, the local soup kitchen, Donna Ayer wants residents to know meals and groceries are available for those in need, too. BFL serves lunches Monday through Saturday for their clients, and furloughed government employees are welcome to join.

“If you are having a difficult situation, that’s what we’re here for,” said Ayer. “In addition, we are sensitive to the fact that folks may not feel comfortable coming and receiving meal at the soup kitchen, so we can also put bags of groceries together for them to pick up.”

BFL can also be available after hours by-request.

“As this shutdown continues, it’s going to get harder and harder for people,” she said. “We want to stay ahead of it, and let people know that’s why we’re here.”

At the SCCYMCA, officials announced that furloughed employees facing financial hardship during the shutdown may have their membership fee waived.

“The shutdown is creating financial hardship and stress for many families in our communities and it’s only become worse as the shutdown grows longer,” said chief executive officer Mark Pooler in a press release. “In an effort to relieve that stress and prove that the Y is here for all, we are offering free memberships for federal employees for the extent of the shutdown, and would like to remind existing members that if they are struggling to make ends meet, our finance team is here to work with you and help.”

The YMCA will also offer free trials during the shutdown for furloughed employees. All memberships provide members with access to the fitness centers, pool and a variety of programs.

At the state level, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a public-private partnership between the state and private banks, led by Webster Bank and supported by the Connecticut Bankers Association, will enable essential federal workers who are required to work without pay to receive unemployment assistance.

In addition, he is working with legislative leadership to emergency-certify a bill that would ensure the state is able to take advantage of any decision made by the federal government to permit essential workers to collect earned unemployment insurance benefits. The governor also urged non-essential employees to access state employment benefits by contacting the Connecticut Department of Labor or their local American Job Center.

“Federal workers—regardless of their employment classification—are hurting while the federal government is shut down,” Lamont said in a press release. “This is particularly true for those employees who must still report to work and incur the cost of commuting and other work-related costs without receiving a paycheck.”

Foodshare, the largest anti-hunger organization in the greater Hartford area, connects surplus food to neighbors through a network of 300 food pantries, meal programs and mobile Foodshare sites. During the shutdown, Foodshare’s mobile pantry trucks can distribute free food at community sites. Their website, foodshare.org, also features a food pantry and meal locator, and information on Connecticut’s free, 24-hour “2-1-1 helpline” to connect with health and human services in the community.

Foodshare also has information about the department of social services’ supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP, or food stamps), the emergency food assistance program (TEFAP), commodity supplemental food program (CSFP) and child nutrition programs.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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