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Unpaid federal workers grateful for 'humbling' food drive in Brooklyn

"It's my first time ever having to go through something like this," said TSA employee Amelia Williams.

Furloughed federal workers receive food and supplies from

Furloughed federal workers receive food and supplies from the Food Bank for New York City at a pop-up distribution event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Amelia Williams has been working for the Transportation Security Administration for less than a year — more than a month of it without pay. On Tuesday she donned her TSA jacket and came to first of the Food Bank for New York City's pop-up events at the Barclays Center that was geared toward offering help to furloughed federal workers, many of whom have never been in this position before. 

"If I don’t have to spend money on food, it helps. I can spend money on my light bill, my gas bill, my rent," said Williams, 27, who lives in Flatbush. "It’s my first time ever having to go through something like this — you’re kind of humbling yourself to go through something like this."

Federal workers from all walks of life joined Williams on Tuesday, taking home bags of shelf-stable goods like cans of tomato soup and beans, as well as potatoes, onions, frozen proteins, milk, grapes, and household goods such as soap or diapers for those who needed them. Mikola De Roo, the vice president of public affairs for the Food Bank, said the group started planning for this event only a couple weeks after the shutdown started, and was prepared to help as many as 800 people on Tuesday. 

"We started talking about it as soon as we realized that the shutdown was not going to end," De Roo said. "These are mostly folks who probably never expected to be in this position. You want to make sure that they are treated with dignity, just as we want to treat everyone who is already living like that, day-to-day, with as much dignity as possible."

Tuesday's Brooklyn event was the first of several pop-ups to come, De Roo said, with one planned at an iconic location in each borough.

Judy Bryant, 58, an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service who lives in Bedford Stuyvesant, had tears in her eyes on Tuesday as she picked up staples to bring home. 

"I was hoping it didn’t have to come to this," she said. "I understand what [Trump] wants, but he has to understand that we have to live. We have nothing to do with what’s going on."

Bryant, who elected to use her maiden name because of her job, said she has worked for the agency for three decades. At first she wasn't going to come on Tuesday, but she ultimately changed her mind. 

"I can promise you this: When we get back to work, I will be donating to this company. Now I know how it feels," she said. "I said at least I’ll have food." 

Canarsie resident and TSA agent Marcia London, 35, said she is a single mother of two young girls, 4 and 10 years old. She said she's been going to work and trying to do her duty, but it's been difficult — especially with the noticeably diminished staffing levels.

"The morale went down ... It’s going to continue because now it’s two pay periods and no check," she said. "This feud between the president and Pelosi, I don’t see it ending anytime soon ... We should not have to suffer because you can’t come to an agreement."

London said she grabbed grapes for her daughter — a sweet treat she was happy she could provide, adding that "every little bit helps."

"I take care of them and still have to keep them in their daily activities. The monthly things for them don't stop," she said. "At the end of the day, I’m trying to stay positive for them."

For Williams, even though her job at the TSA is relatively new, she still wants to continue with the agency when the shutdown is finally over. 

"It’s a great job and I love securing my country and I love assisting passengers from all different backgrounds," she said.

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