Pop-up food pantry helps Coast Guard families, others impacted by the shutdown

January 14, 2019

New London — Fifty-two-year-old John Hoxie, who works in ground maintenance at the Coast Guard Academy, plans to go to an employment agency in Norwich to inquire about work until the partial federal government shutdown, the longest in history, is over.

“At the beginning, it was nice having time off, especially around the holidays, but now it’s becoming stressful with no end in sight,” the Plainfield resident said Monday. “It’s hard to get a loan and the creditors want their money.”

The Coast Guard is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is unfunded during the shutdown affecting about 25 percent of the federal government. Other branches of the military fall within the Department of Defense and remain funded.

About 160 of the 260 government-funded nonessential employees at the academy are furloughed. Ground maintenance, facilities maintenance, secretarial staff, and support staff are not at work.

The majority of the remaining 100 employees, who are coming into work, but without pay, are faculty. Active duty Coast Guard personnel have been reporting to work but without pay.

To help those impacted by the shutdown, the southeastern Connecticut chapter of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association teamed up with the Coast Guard Enlisted Association of Southeastern Connecticut and the Coast Guard Spouses’ Association of Southeastern Connecticut to transform the lounge in the academy’s Leamy Hall into a pop-up food pantry, open to anyone impacted by the shutdown.

“Military members have a natural inclination to give. It’s not natural for us to take,” said Craig Breverman, an active duty senior chief in the Coast Guard who volunteers as president of the southeastern Connecticut CPOA chapter. “In case of bad weather this weekend, we want them to have food in their pantries.”

Breverman said there was a steady flow of people coming to the pantry since it opened at 8 a.m. Monday. He saw “quite a few” spouses, some with children in hand, newly minted Coast Guard personnel like a young guy who’d just graduated from basic training, and senior personnel.

“All of this stuff has to go. Take as much as you need,” Lauren Laughlin, a spokeswoman at the academy, told people as they walked through the door Monday to pick from the rows of tables filled with food items like cereal, pasta and granola bars, dog and cat food, and household items like paper towels.

Breverman said the southeastern Connecticut chapter found out the Boston CPOA was doing a pop-up food pantry to support those impacted by the shutdown there with help from the nonprofit We Share Hope in Warren, R.I., and reached out to them to see if they could help. On Saturday, the nonprofit delivered 12 pallets of food.

Breverman was preparing to answer a flurry of requests from other CPOAs around the country, asking for guidance on how the pantry at the academy was put together.

Hoxie, the grounds maintenance worker, said he found out about the pantry Monday morning and came over to stock up. He and his wife have a 14-year-old daughter, “so we still have to put food on the table.” He said they’ve had to cancel some of their daughter’s sports activities like swimming and horseback riding because they can’t afford to pay for them.

Hoxie said civil servants like him usually would’ve gotten paid sometime between Friday and Monday. Active duty Coast Guard personnel are on a different pay schedule, and were expected to miss their first paycheck on Tuesday.

“It’s an uncomfortable experience to be like ‘I work but I’m not getting a pay check,’” said Laughlin, a petty officer second class in the Coast Guard.

Her daughter’s 12th birthday is coming up and she had planned to have an indoor swimming party, which would not have been a problem under normal circumstances. Instead, she is having a slumber party at the house, and is thinking about how she can make it nice without spending too much money.

“My daughter should not be worried about whether she can have a good birthday party,” she said.