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More than 100 unpaid workers visit Island Harvest Food Bank

The nonprofit began gearing up to aid federal workers shortly after the furloughs began, while still serving 300,000 Islanders every day. Finances are fragile for many.

Migdalia Otero-Terry, left, Island Harvest vice president of

Migdalia Otero-Terry, left, Island Harvest vice president of operations, assists Leslie McPherson-Anderson, right, as intern Nicole Randazzo pitches in on Friday. Photo Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

United by stress, dozens of unpaid federal workers from at least five federal entities on Friday stocked up on the basics — milk, tuna fish, potatoes, cereal, light bulbs, paper towels and diapers — at the Island Harvest Food Bank.

Many of those items became unaffordable after their second paycheck was withheld on Day 35 of the partial government shutdown.

“I’m numb,” said Leslie McPherson-Anderson of Brooklyn, senior officer at lower Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center. “This is my first time coming to a pantry," she said, expressing her gratitude.

Creditors have been understanding, she said: “The only bill I’m worrying about is my rent — and I worry about that on a daily basis.”

McPherson-Anderson was among 110 federal workers who had visited the food bank’s Emergency Resource Center Friday as of 2:30 p.m. — right around the time President Donald Trump announced a short-term deal to end the shutdown and reopen the government for three weeks.

By closing time at 4 p.m., 125 federal workers had showed up, officials said. 

Jessica Quinn of Northport, a mother of three children under 6, talked about how hard it can be to save money for some federal workers. Her husband works for the Coast Guard and is frequently reassigned to different bases, so she can't have her own career.

“It’s super hard to be accepting help; I volunteer at a ton of places,” Quinn said.

Internal Revenue Service manager Monique DiChristo, 58, of Center Moriches, a food bank volunteer, has been counseling her staff. “I cry with them . . . I tell them we’re going to get through this.”

The Hauppauge site only opens for exceptional events, such as fires or storms, said chief executive Randi Shubin Dresner.

The nonprofit began gearing up to aid federal workers shortly after the furloughs began, she said, while still serving 300,000 Long Islanders every day. Finances are fragile for many.

“Long Island’s high cost of living often puts many working families a paycheck or two away from having to choose between putting gas in their cars, paying the rent or mortgage, and feeding their family," Shubin Dresner said. 

The unpaid workers also were offered help with food stamps, low-cost loans from credit union TFCU, PSEG Long Island’s 60-day grace period for bills and other aid, and free or lower cost school lunches. Huntington’s Family Service League planned to offer appointments with mental health counselors; United Way of Long Island was expected to help out with prescription cards and detail its 24-hour call center.

Even after the government reopens, the pantry will keep its doors open for the workers.

“It’s going to take a few weeks for them” to get back on a sound financial footing, Shubin Dresner said, a point also emphasized by several of these workers, who spoke of making calls seeking extra time to pay tuition and many other bills.  

Explaining they were not allowed to comment, a number of air traffic controllers and Treasury Department staffers described how humbling it was to seek help.

“A lot of the calls come from their family” instead of the worker, said Danielle Loccisano, an Island Harvest bookkeeper. “They don’t want to ask for help.”  

Some federal workers came with their spouses and infants or toddlers. While some could rely on a spouse’s income to make ends meet, some had married federal workers who also had been furloughed.

Though the center was well-stocked, including with dog and cat food, not all needs could be met — however humble, including a request for peanut butter.

Anthony Califra, 37, of Remsenburg, noted he, his father and his sister all work for the IRS. “It’s amazing — the organizations and companies that are helping,” he said. Still, “there are lots of bills coming.”

Two volunteers, DiChristo and real estate agent Rina Brooke, 53 of North Babylon, on Saturday plan to request donations at the King Kullen supermarket in Patchogue to restock a nearby nonprofit, Angels of Long Island.

Its location close to the Coast Guard and the IRS has made it one of the first places those workers turn. Said Brooke: “It’s not politics; it’s humanitarian.”

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