AUGUSTA — Federal workers going without pay because of the government shutdown are welcome to get food for their families at multiple area food banks and pantries.

Also, they can play laser tag for free.

Augusta Food Bank officials announced this week they are aware there are families affected by the government shutdown and wanted to offer them food — regardless of where they live or how much money they normally make — to help them cope with not receiving their paychecks.

“When it became apparent this shutdown would linger on longer than those in the past, we wanted to try to find a way to help,” said Al Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Augusta Food Bank, which normally provides food to Augusta and Manchester residents in need. “We are not (screening by) location restrictions or income restrictions due to this unique situation.

“If they are furloughed and not getting paid, we will help them. All they have to do is call. Tell us how big the family is. We will put together boxes of food to match family size,” he added. “We’re trying to make this quick and painless for these folks, as they have enough to worry about as it is.”

Federal workers just need to bring their government IDs with them to prove they are a government worker who is furloughed. They can call 622-5225 to make arrangements.

Melissa Shea, distribution manager for Augusta Food Bank, said in a statement that federal workers have “mortgages and electric bills that need to be paid and we are hoping that this will help families save money on food so they can put it towards keeping a roof over their head or heat in the house.”

Augusta Food Bank volunteer Eleanor Kidwell packs items for customers Tuesday. Several food security groups in central Maine have opened their doors to federal employees who have gone unpaid since December. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

JoEllen Cottrell, executive director of Winthrop Food Pantry, which serves residents of Winthrop and Wayne, said pantry officials “absolutely” will provide free food to unpaid federal workers in that area. She said other food banks and pantries, including the Vassalboro Food Station Pantry, are also offering federal workers in their service areas food. She said the Winthrop pantry and others partner organizations received an email from nonprofit food provider Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine suggesting they could distribute food to federal workers not being paid.

“Food pantries are happy to help,” Cottrell said. “We (normally) do income screening, but we do have some leeway for emergency situations. We’re here to help.”

The pantry in Winthrop is open from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday and from 5 to 6:30 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday of the month. It can be reached at 377-3332.

The central Maine nonprofits are not alone in Maine in offering assistance to federal workers not receiving paychecks. The Saco Food Pantry is offering assistance as well.

Free items and assistance other than food are also available in central Maine to federal workers missing out on their pay.

People, regardless of what their income would be normally, are welcome at Bridging the Gap, a nonprofit group that oversees Everyday Basics Essentials Pantry, Addie’s Attic Clothing Bank, and the Augusta Community Warming Center, according to Sarah Miller, executive director.

Augusta Food Bank volunteer Ilana Gilg bags fruit for customers Tuesday. Several food security groups in central Maine have opened their doors to federal employees who have gone unpaid since December. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

While most federal workers probably haven’t gone without pay long enough to need to get new or used clothes, the essentials pantry offers toiletries, including hygiene products, diapers and bathroom supplies free of charge to people who need them. People are welcome to come pick up items when the services are open.

“Many families who seem to be doing OK may be living close to paycheck-to-paycheck,” Miller said. “The idea is we’re low-barrier here, in that if you’re coming here and stating you’re in need, we’re going to serve you. You may just need it once a year to get through that rough patch.”

Miller said a woman whose husband was furloughed from his federal job was there recently, describing the difficulties of making ends meet, though she was there donating items, not picking them up.

Use of the essentials pantry is on the rise, Miller said, with 1,110 orders packed in December 2018, up from 762 in December 2017; and 9,215 orders packed in all of 2018, up from about 7,000 in 2017.

The movement to help federal employees that have been furloughed or are working without pay is national, with an NPR report of about 400 Coast Guard families helped at a pop-up food pantry in Boston in the first two days it was open last week. According to an ABC News report, 2,200 furloughed federal employees received produce and other items at pop-up locations last weekend in Washington, D.C. The same report noted that a church in Dallas, Texas, was handing out gift cards, and cities such as Tampa, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Rochester, Minnesota; and Ogden, Utah had food pantries that were providing assistance to federal employees.

Federal workers in need of something active to blow off steam, or who want to treat their kids to a fun time, also have a free option offered by a local business.

G-Force Adventures — which offers laser tag, archery tag, “paintless paint ball” and other activities inside its site at the Marketplace at Augusta — is offering federal employees furloughed or forced to work without pay a day of fun for them and their families, any day they choose, taking part in any of the business’s offerings other than its arcade.

“Think about it. These folks are public servants, and what’s happening right now is wrong,” said Brian Plavnick, an owner of the business. “They’re not getting a paycheck and some of them still have to go to work. I like to give back, especially in a time of need.”

He said one family in which the parent is a furloughed federal worker is having a child’s birthday party there this weekend. Plavnick said federal workers just need to come in and show their ID.

Last week the Maine Department of Education emailed a reminder to school districts that applications for free and reduced-price meals may be submitted any time of the school year, and if federal employees affected by the shutdown would like to apply for school meal benefits for their children, they may do so through their local school district. A special application can be downloaded from the Maine Department of Education’s website and submitted to local school food services.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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