US federal workers turn to food banks for help during shutdown
NEW YORK: Most never needed help from a food pantry. But a month since the US government shutdown began, dozens of federal employees have been lining up in Brooklyn for necessities.
Customs, tax and emergency management officials are all among the crowd, having been unemployed since Dec 22.
Others deemed "essential", like transportation workers or prison guards, are forced to continue working without pay, taking advantage of their lunch breaks to stock up.
Volunteers are manning distribution tables in the lobby of the Barclays Center, which usually hosts concerts or sporting events.
Those in need register and then fill plastic bags with canned goods, potatoes, chicken, grapes and basic toiletries.
"I came here to grab some goods, to be honest," said Ms Antoinette Peek-Williams, an employee of the Homeland Security Department, who came an hour by subway.
"Any way I can save money and put towards something else - that's what I am trying to do."
Since the budget impasse began, the 62-year-old lives "day to day - watching what I eat, watching what I spend, not spending".
"Praying that they make a decision sooner than later."
She hopes to return to work on Feb 1 - an optimism of which she is no longer so certain.
"I am a person where the glass is always half-full," said the mother of a college student.
One 39-year-old single mother, who works as a prison guard at Brooklyn's federal detention facility, said: "It is very stressful."
She came to the food pantry on her lunch break seeking enough to prepare a few meals.
Her daughter is nearing the end of high school, and as students apply for universities, she laments being unable to pay her child's application fees.
The shutdown has exacerbated a precarious situation in a city where soaring rents are pushing more and more families into poverty, said Mr Francisco Tezen, head of development at the Food Bank for New York City.
The non-profit, the city's largest food assistance organisation, hosted the distribution along with corporate sponsors. - AFP