Generosity amid government shutdown

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Danielle Duarte, service coordinator, and one of the tenants, Ada Melendez, are among those participating in the food drive at the housing site of the Village at Saint Peter, Pleasantville.

As the government shutdown approaches its one-month mark, the end of January looms over the heads of 800,000 unpaid workers across the nation. For them and their families, it means another withheld paycheck — and consequently panic, desperation, and having to choose between essentials like food, medical care, rent and utilities.

On a local level in Southern New Jersey, Cape May Coast Guard personnel and their families have taken a hit. The longest government shutdown in U.S. history also marks the first time in more than a century that part of the armed forces has had paychecks withheld.

But, as more and more families struggle to make ends meet, the charitable response has been enormous, with food and monetary donations being collected among various agencies, parishes and other organizations.

Among the first to respond were the residents living in the housing sites of the Diocesan Housing Services Corporation, which provides quality affordable housing to low- to moderate-income individuals, many of whom are elderly, disabled and living on a low budget. Despite facing financial struggles of their own, they stepped forward, organizing food drives and collecting items across all of the sites to give to Coast Guard families.

Rose Emmel, the property manager of the Victorian Towers, who has seen an outpouring of donations from the residents, said, “It’s heartwarming, to say the least, to see the amount of generosity our properties have shown in this time of need.”

She also explained that the residents met members of the Coast Guard while they went to local food pantries to pick up items. There they witnessed first-hand the dire situations that the Coast Guard families faced, inspiring the residents to take action.

Explained James Reynolds, executive director of Diocesan Housing Services Cooperation, “A lot of the residents can relate to these families because they’ve been there, they know what it’s like to be in their situation. It’s amazing to see people who face their own financial struggles be the first to step up and serve those in need.”

For some elderly residents, the gestures are small. Katherine Boyer, director of Property Management for the Diocesan Housing Services Corporation, described an elderly woman who was hoping to pitch in to the effort, but worried that her donation wasn’t enough. “The resident held up two cans of corn that she bought, and she asked if she could donate them. I told her, ‘Of course.’ All donations count, no matter how small. I’m always amazed at their eagerness and willingness to give whatever they can.”

Other diocesan support comes from Catholic Charities, which is gearing up to assist families with housing needs. The agency has overseen case management services through disasters and crises such as Superstorm Sandy, which gravely affected the coastal community in Southern New Jersey.

Explained Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities, “For the federal employees who are furloughed, this is a disaster not unlike what happened when Superstorm Sandy came ashore. Loss of paychecks, through no fault of their own, has that kind of immediate impact. Accordingly, we will operationalize our response as we do when disasters strike, and we will work towards providing relief and assistance to families affected by this shutdown.”

To learn more about Catholic Charities’ services in Cape May County, visit: http://catholiccharitiescamden.org/?staff=cape-may-county

To donate directly to the Cape May Coast Guard, visit: https://www.coastguardcommunity.org/donate