An outpouring of generosity for TSA and other workers not getting paid during shutdown

Transportation Security Administration employee Gary Vetterli eats lunch at Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday. Officials at the Utah airport treated workers from the TSA, Federal Aviation Administration and Customs and Border Protection to a free barbecue lunch.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

The partial government shutdown is a double-whammy for Cara and Philip Mangone, a married couple from Philadelphia. Both are agents with the Transportation Security Administration, both working full time at the Philadelphia airport. Neither knows when they might again start drawing their paychecks.

Part-time jobs are out of the question — they work opposite shifts timed to make sure one of them is always home with their kids, ages 2 and 5. So donations of food and diapers have been a real help as savings are being stretched thin.

“Every penny that we don’t have to spend is helpful,” Cara Mangone said Wednesday as she picked up donated goods being distributed at the airport by fellow members of the American Federation of Government Employees.

The shutdown has brought an outpouring of generosity to TSA agents and other federal employees who are working without pay. Food, financial help, haircuts and toiletries are among the donated goods and services. TSA screeners start at about $24,000 a year.


Emily Hunt, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, drops off a donation of food for TSA workers at Orlando International Airport on Tuesday.
Emily Hunt, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, drops off a donation of food for TSA workers at Orlando International Airport on Tuesday.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

On Wednesday, donations of diapers, juice, garbage bags, canned soup and boxes of Ramen noodles were being unloaded onto luggage carts at the valet drop-off curb at Orlando International Airport, to be distributed to TSA workers there the next day.

“I just wanted to support the federal workers who are furloughed because of the inaction of our government leaders,” said Brian Couch, wearing a Kansas City Chiefs ball cap as he dropped off his donation.

The airport in Pittsburgh provided a free lunch to TSA workers on what should have been their payday last Friday. “Our Operation Thank You free lunch program initially was only Fridays, but because we’re hearing from several food vendors who want to donate, it’s possible it will be increased to more days,” airport spokesman Bob Kerlik said in an email.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, spokeswoman Elise Durham said some concession operators there were also donating free lunches to TSA workers and the airport was providing complimentary parking for those workers who need it.

Some travelers wanted to get in on the act, but TSA rules don’t allow that.

Tristan Hearn reaches for a donation on Wednesday in Solon, Ohio. Stouffers, headquartered in the city, was handing out the frozen meals to furloughed federal workers.
(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

“There are people trying to donate gift cards to us at the checkpoints,” Cara Mangone said. “We can’t accept it.”

Businesses large and small are trying to help.

The Ruby Slipper, a New Orleans-based restaurant chain with several locations in the city and on the Gulf Coast, said on its Facebook page that it has served some 3,000 free meals since offering help to unpaid federal employees more than two weeks ago. At the Top Knot Beauty Company in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, owner Jennifer Delage has been offering free haircuts to federal employees. She said other businesses have followed suit with free or discounted services.

“That was the main goal,” Delage said. “To inspire others to pay it forward.”

Such sentiments are evident all over the country — and beyond.

A lifeline for the Coast Guard

Unlike other military services, the Coast Guard, part of the Department of Homeland Security, isn’t funded during the shutdown. In a letter posted on social media, the guard’s commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz, said USAA, a company that provides banking and investment services to current and former military members and their families, made a $15-million donation to support those in need, to be distributed with assistance from the American Red Cross.

In another gesture, Roger Williams University invited active-duty Coast Guard members in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and their families to its Bristol, R.I., campus for a free dinner Tuesday night. About 75 people showed up.

Pizzas across the border

Canadian air traffic controllers have been taking up donations to have pizzas delivered to their American counterparts at locations around the U.S.

Pizzas have been bought for controllers at 84 U.S. facilities. “We’ve stopped tracking the number of pizzas,” said Tania Calverley, director of communications for the Canadian Air Traffic Controllers Assn. “We’re certainly well over 400.”

Free rides

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority has announced that all federal employees will be able to ride public transit for free by showing their government IDs.

“We want to ... assist those who are hurting by taking a little weight off of their shoulders during this time,” Robbie Makinen, chief executive and president of the authority, said in a news release about the program, which began Tuesday.

Bridge loans

Some financial institutions are offering low-interest, or even no-interest, loans to unpaid workers.

Webster Bank in Connecticut said it would offer no-interest loans to any federal workers who are working and not being paid during the shutdown. In announcing the assistance program on Tuesday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said he hoped other banks would offer similar programs. The loans are to be repaid after the workers receive back pay.

In addition to its donation to help Coast Guard personnel, USAA has announced low-interest loan offers to active Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps and Public Health Service Corps personnel whose pay is disrupted.

Airport workers flip burgers and hot dogs on a grill set up on a tarmac at Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday as part of a lunch for government workers not getting paid during the shutdown.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)