As shutdown drags on, Tampa International hosts food bank for its own ‘working poor’

TAMPA — The working poor make up about 95 percent of the people helped by Feeding Tampa Bay.

Boxes that hold 50 up to pounds of food and other necessities were provided Monday afternoon to some 60 federal employees working at Tampa International Airport. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]

“They work hard,” said the nonprofit’s spokeswoman Jayci Peters, “but their pay is not enough to cover all of their financial responsibilities.”

Their ranks have now expanded, at least temporarily, to include some of the federal employees working for no pay at Tampa International Airport during the shutdown brought about by the feud over border security between the White House and Congress.

Feeding Tampa Bay has partnered with the United Way Suncoast to host a food bank this week for the airport’s federal employees. They include about 700 members of the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“Sometimes life happens, and you need a little help,” said Deanna Willsey, United Way Suncoast spokeswoman. “That’s why we are here.”

In addition, Tampa International provided the federal employees with box lunches Monday and will do so again Thursday.

“We work alongside these people every day and they are a really important part of making sure that the 60,000 people who move through this airport every day do so efficiently and safely,” said Janet Scherberger, an airport spokeswoman.

The food bank will be open through Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. and again from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the airport’s police training center, 5020 N. West Shore Boulevard.

An estimated 60 federal employees collected food there Monday afternoon, said Emily Nipps, an airport spokeswoman.

The food distributed so far will feed the workers and their families, about 187 people in all, Nipps said.

As they came and went in their agency uniforms, none of them wanted to speak with the Tampa Bay Times. They said they had been instructed not to by their employers.

More than 10,000 pounds of food was available Monday, a mix of perishables like produce and meats, as well as canned and boxed goods and personal hygiene products. Everyone received a box that could hold up to 50 pounds of food, enough to feed a family of four for a week.

Employees can return to the food bank if they need to.

If the shutdown continues into next week, the food bank might, as well.

“We will reassess later in the week,” said Peters with Feeding Tampa Bay. The nonprofit provides food to some 70,000 people across 10 counties in the Tampa Bay region.

Federal employees at the airport got some help with other basic necessities, too.

Representatives from Tampa Electric Co. came to talk about delaying payments and social workers from Hillsborough County offered advice on childcare options.

In addition, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay has case managers at the airport during evening hours for mental health counseling, with funding for their work provided by the United Way.

“We want to do whatever we can to help them through this time as the shutdown continues,” the airport’s Scherberger said, “especially now that some have missed a paycheck and could miss another one.”

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.