As the government shutdown stretches on, federal workers in rural Georgia are starting to feel the bite of hunger.
The asphalt behind the loading dock of the Second Harvest of South Georgia food bank in Valdosta rattled the wheels of a shopping cart loaded with food for three transportation safety administration employees from the local airport Thursday morning.
The TSA workers rode together in a single bright orange pickup with chrome tail pipes. Though they had just gotten off work, they hadn’t been paid in two weeks. One of the women said she has three kids at home. Another is married to an active duty service member.
“There’s some pasta. Some canned fruit, vegetables,” explained Douglas Griner of Second Harvest as he loaded up the pickup truck. “Some canned protein.”
This was the first day of outreach to cash strapped federal employees Second Harvest has planned across their 13,000 square mile service area in south Georgia, larger than at least nine us states. Second Harvest chief marketing officer Eliza McCall says even in normal times, this region is one of the hungriest places in the country. And these are not normal times.
“Our normal operations are continuing just like they would be,” she said. “But yes these are extraordinary.”
In addition to TSA workers, the food bank is trying to reach Farm Service Agency workers who were just sent back to work to help get the spring growing season up and running, FEMA workers who may still be dealing with recovery from hurricane Michael in Georgia and Florida and US Department of Agriculture food inspectors who can’t clock out of chicken processing plants for fear of interrupting the nation’s food supply.
Amanda Cravens is a furloughed administrative support assistant with the USDA in Tifton. She’s asking for food assistance for herself and her disabled mother for the first time in her life.
“It's definitely a humbling experience to have to actually ask for help,” Cravens said.
And they food she received? Like in most food banks, its supplied by the Cravens’ colleagues at the USDA.
“We are the agency that puts food on the table, so, yeah, very ironic,” Cravens said.
Second Harvest marketing director Eliza McCall said that irony pinches some regular Second Harvest work. Programs for feeding at risk kids and seniors only have resources through next month.
“Everybody is one thing away from hunger. One job loss, one accident, one illness….” She said before concluding.
“Or one government shutdown.”