The Middle Keys community is responding to the plight of Coast Guard employees and other federal government workers affected by this, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

Locals are donating money, supermarket gift cards, gas cards and even vegetables. 

“We were brainstorming on how we could help. We started thinking about what they are not able to buy. Just like right after Hurricane Irma, the first things we needed was food and water,” said Krystal Stullken. She’s partnered with Moxieberries, a local organic produce club that brings “shares” of vegetables and fruits to the Keys. Moxieberries is donating $300 worth of produce that was to be delivered on Jan. 23.

Donating gifts to federal employees isn’t simple, and in order to prevent even the appearance of impropriety, everything must be accounted for and logged in. Members of the Coast Guard in Marathon have set up a food pantry that is open to every federal government employee affected by the shutdown. And, yes, every bag of cat food is being counted and every receipt is carefully filed.

“They send us a list of needs, and we go shopping utilizing donations from local individuals and businesses,” said local attorney Rich Malafy. “They need everything from cat and dog food to lunch meat and bread. I’m trying to steer away from canned food donations, because you can only eat so much Chef Boyardee.”

Malafy said the kids are getting involved, too. They are helping unload the groceries and stocking the shelves of the pantry, and then making their own lists of what they would like. 

“They put down Skittles and M&Ms and Lunchables,” Malafy said, laughing. “It’s hilarious. But it does remind you that there are whole families being affected by this.”

Right now the food pantry is being fueled by donations from a wide variety of organizations, from private donations as well as those from Sweet Savannah’s, Moxieberries, Key Colony Beach Boating and Fishing Club, Cabana Club, Marathon Power Squadron, Berkshire Hathaway Real Estate’s Charitable Foundation and Overseas Pub & Grill.

Many restaurants and businesses are offering discounts: Sparky’s Landing, Havana Jack’s, Fish Tales and Overseas Pub; and Rachel Wagner is offering free haircuts to Coast Guard employees and their families. 

This is on top of the support from local banks, each with an account where the public can donate funds. Some banks have “no fee” loans available, while others are helping with plans to defer loan payments. 

The gift cards and gas cards have to be logged through the appropriate agency, and then are distributed to affected employees. 

United Way of the Florida Keys has provided $10,000 in emergency funding to assist The Florida Keys Outreach Coalition in the Upper and Lower Keys, and KAIR in the Middle Keys. If the shutdown continues beyond Feb. 1, the agency has pledged an additional $5,000. The assistance covers medical care, living expenses, utility payments and childcare. Additional assistance is available through United Way’s partner agencies — SOS Foundation in Stock Island and Key Largo, Florida Keys Outreach Coalition in Key West, and Burton Memorial United Methodist Church in Tavernier.

Sweet Savannah’s is accepting donations of gift cards or dry goods. To make a larger donation by check, contact the law offices of Rich Malafy at 305-743-2492. For either gift card or cash donations, contact the United Way at 305-735-1929.

 

MORE TROUBLE ON THE WAY?

In response to the federal government shutdown, SNAP benefits (or food stamps) were issued in advance on Jan. 20 for the month of February. If the shutdown does not end by Feb. 1, the next round of benefits may go unpaid.

While federal employees and assistance recipients are not necessarily in the same demographic, it does put extra strain on local food banks which already are experiencing a run, said Leah Stockton of the United Way of the Florida Keys. 

“I would encourage everyone to buy the BOGOs — buy one, get one — and donate the portion they don’t need to a food bank,” Stockton said. “And don’t forget they also need things like toilet paper and paper towels.”

There’s another looming worry, too, Stockton said.“The first of the month is when rent and mortgages are due. We can ask landlords and banks for accommodations, but they have bills to pay, too.”

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