RED BANK – In the midst of the longest federal government shutdown in the country’s history, local organizations, schools and even a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer have stepped up to make the lives of furloughed workers a little easier.
On a frigid Jan. 21 afternoon – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – the JBJ Soul Kitchen opened its doors for a special two-hour lunch session in which furloughed workers and their families could sit down for a free meal at the Monmouth Street establishment, with a menu that included two soup options, meatloaf, a fish dish and a chicken entree.
The event was organized by Jon Bon Jovi’s wife, Dorothea Bongiovi, and her Navesink River neighbor, Tammy Snyder Murphy, the wife of Gov. Phil Murphy.
Cash Flow Worries
Murphy said it’s something they had been thinking of organizing for some time.
“We kept thinking that the government was going to reopen, but eventually it became pretty clear that it wasn’t going to reopen. So, in all honesty, we probably waited too long to do this,” the First Lady said in an interview with The Two River Times.
“But as soon as we reached out to the Bongiovis, who already have this amazing facility, it wasn’t long before we had a plan in place,”
Murphy said the first wave of diners included employees of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and United States Coast Guard personnel.
In conversations, Murphy said diners expressed worries about collecting unemployment and described interactions with unemployment office workers who were “disinterested” in assisting, or had no answers.
Murphy said she spoke to TSA employees who are still required to show up to work despite not collecting a paycheck for the past month and are trying to save money by carpooling to Newark Liberty Airport.
“They said they can’t afford the gas money,” Murphy added. “The bottom line is, these are normal people. These are all of us and they are so thrilled to be here and so thankful. They were a little apprehensive at first about showing up, but now they feel a little kick in their step, because they know there are others in the same boat and people in the community who are trying to help.”
A Sense of Camaraderie
EPA pollution official Kathleen Foley was one of the diners who ventured to the Red Bank eatery and said it was less about the meal and more about the sense of camaraderie she felt while spending time with others suffering the same plight.
“It’s the thought that makes a difference. It’s the thought of them reaching out and understanding our predicament,” Foley said. “For me it’s not about the meal. My husband works and we have cans of soup and food at home. This is about coming together with other people who are suffering through it and feeling like a family. It’s frustrating but we’re in it together.”
Across the nation, 800,000 Federal workers missed their first paycheck Friday, Jan. 11, and could miss their next one Jan. 25 with Democrats and the White House at an impasse over President Donald Trump’s long-promised border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bongiovi said it’s important not to get caught up in the politics of the situation and to focus on the people and families being impacted.
“Anyone who goes a month without a paycheck is going to be in very big trouble in New Jersey,” Bongiovi said. “We are a resource for people. We’ve been open for seven years and we see people struggling. Time can get tough and we want to be there for people. None of this is a handout. It’s a hand up.”
The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22.
On Jan. 11 a bill signed by Trump guaranteed full backpay for impacted federal workers.
Other Local Groups Stepping Up
- Lunch Break, located at 121 Drs. James Parker Blvd in Red Bank, is offering furloughed employees and their families continental breakfast from 8:30 to 10 a.m. and a hot lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.
- The Hackensack Meridian Health network (including Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank and Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel) has announced it will waive co-pays and deductibles for emergency care for furloughed employees and families.
- The Community YMCA and YMCA of Western Monmouth County announced it will offer free facility access and childcare payment relief to furloughed workers and families in Monmouth County. The YMCA is also waiving monthly dues for existing members impacted by the shutdown.
- Red Bank Borough Schools announced a partnership with its food service provider, Chartwells, to provide free breakfast and lunch to students whose families have been impacted by the shutdown.