With the partial federal government shutdown in its 33rd day, officials with the Brookings-Harbor Community Helpers Emergency Food Bank anticipate being hit hard by throngs of people in the area who are either furloughed, working without pay or who receive food stamps.
In Curry County, U.S. Forest Service employees were sent home Dec. 23, beginning what is now the longest government shutdown in the history of nation, including those initiated by war or recession. According to the New York Times, there have been 21 gaps in government funding since 1976, 12 of which were settled within a week.
In the early 1980s, then-U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti ruled that it was illegal for the federal government to spend money without congressional appropriations. The few exceptions included work by federal employees to protect life and property, he wrote.
That’s partially why Curry County is affected today.
U.S. Coast Guard employees, while considered a branch of the military, are funded under Homeland Security; they are deemed necessary employees and remain on the job — but without pay. They have missed two paychecks.
Women, Infant, Children (WIC) benefits are covered through February, and school meals will be paid for from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for February and March.
But 18 percent of Curry County residents others depend on SNAP benefits — food stamps — to feed their families. The state distributed February SNAP benefits early, on Jan. 18.
Food bank officials are urging SNAP recipients to budget their stamps wisely so they last as close to their regular distribution dates in March — assuming the shutdown has ended.
“The thing is, they won’t receive any SNAP benefits in February at all, and we don’t know the timing of the March benefits,” said food bank Executive Director Pamela Winebarger. “DHS (Department of Human Services) let us know what was going on, which was very nice because we didn’t know what was going on.
“They got benefits on the 18th and then won’t in February, and I’m like, ‘oh, boy,’” she continued. “It is going to affect us, and we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We’re hoping (the shutdown) will be over, but that’s not looking like it’s going to happen anytime soon.”
More than 1,800 people, most disabled and older than 60, receive food stamps here, she said. Almost 40 percent of them live in poverty.
Those benefits are usually spent in the first week, and by the middle of the month, the food bank is seeing an increase in requests for food boxes.
“Already,” she said of January, “We’ve been crazy busy this past week.”
The food bank
The Brookings-Harbor food bank gets tons of food from South Coast Food Share, which receives it from the Oregon Food Bank.
“We’re supposed to be getting more food in through the (state) food bank, but it hasn’t trickled down to us,” Winebarger said. “The only thing we’ve seen is milk. And it’s nice to give people a can or two of veggies, but we try to give them a meal.”
Local establishments, including KFC, Fresh Alliance from Fred Meyer, people who have inadvertently donated food to Goodwill, the Elks Lodge, Grocery Outlet, Dollar Tree, Bi-Mart, Railroad Street Market and Dollar General are among those that regularly help stock the larder.
“And we cannot discredit the individual donors,” Winebarger said. “They faithfully every month donate thousands of pounds of food.”
Twenty-two thousand pounds of food, in December alone, she said.
The bank then distributes food boxes to 325 families — 1,100 to 1,200 people — in the area each month.
In 2016, that amounted to 4,500 boxes. In 2017, it ticked up, to 4,900, and last year, it decreased, to 4,300.
“But the numbers — the Snack Packs, the daily counter …” Winebarger said. “We served more than 32,000 people (in all the programs) last year. That’s a big increase. So even though boxes went down, which is nice, we saw increases for Snack Packs — what we do for our children.”
That annual budget alone tripled from $10,000 to $33,000 to serve 300 kids a week.
Daily counter visits — those people who come to the bank to get enough food for the day — total 900 people a month. Most are veterans and seniors; about 10 to 15 percent are homeless.
“Many folks affected by the shutdown might be seeking our food bank’s support for the first time and likely never expected to need help,” Winebarger said. “This is an additional burden to our local food banks.
“Even though we will commit to doing all we can to support and provide assistance to people impacted by this situation, local food banks simply cannot replace these critical federal nutrition programs, even in the short-term. We need some extra support.”
What else going on?
The Elks Lodge in Brookings is accepting gift cards for U.S. Coast Guard Chetco River Station guardsmen. People can purchase Fred Meyer gift cards and drop them off at the lodge office or lounge at 800 Elk Drive for delivery to families in need. For more information call 541-469-2169.
Century 21 in Brookings is also accepting groceries and day-to-day supplies for distribution to Coast Guard members.
Brookings-Harbor Community Helpers Emergency Food Bank is also asking people for help by contributing high-protein foods or cash — a difficult request for some after donating over the Christmas holidays.
Cash goes much further than food donations, as it can be used to purchase items for pennies on the dollar from state organizations.
The food bank could also use volunteers to help stock and distribute food to locals.
As the shutdown continues, other agencies will run out of money Friday — and federal workers will miss another paycheck.
“People are kinda panicky,” Winebarger said. “What are we going to do? It takes a toll on us, but if we allow it to stress us out, we won’t effectively help people.”