Florida Airport Sets Up Food Bank For Unpaid TSA Agents

The federal government isn’t paying many of its workers, so others are stepping up, including an airport, nonprofit organizations and chef José Andrés.

A Florida airport is helping make sure hundreds of federal employees who work there will be able to put food on the table while they work without pay during the ongoing partial government shutdown.

Tampa International Airport teamed up with Feeding Tampa Bay and United Way Suncoast to set up a food bank on Monday. It provides food and toiletries and is geared toward unpaid Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Federal Aviation Administration employees, who are required to work during the shutdown because their positions are considered vital for safety.

“We’re glad we’re able to help,” airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps told HuffPost. She said that the food bank had about 60 visitors within less than two hours of opening and that many local residents have dropped off items to help.

Nipps said airport operations have remained normal, with not much change in TSA staffing numbers. She added that she hopes providing help gives agents an incentive to keep going in to work.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been struggling to pay for basic necessities as the shutdown has reached its 24th day, making it the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, thanks to President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign any appropriations bill that doesn’t include $5.7 billion for a southwestern border wall. At least 800,000 federal employees around the country have been affected by the shutdown, missing their first paycheck on Jan. 11.

The Tampa International Airport food bank will be open until Saturday, and workers can receive food assistance with a valid form of identification.

The airport also teamed up with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit to provide 500 31-day bus passes to federal workers and is working with local electricity companies to help employees with their utility bills.

“We look at our TSA partners as a part of our TPA family and hope to help them during this time,” the airport tweeted on Friday, using its three-letter code.

Food pantries and nonprofit organizations nationwide are working to help federal workers obtain basic needs. In its first two days, a pop-up food pantry in Boston helped serve about 400 families of members of the Coast Guard, the only military branch working without pay because it is under the Department of Homeland Security.

Second Harvest Food Bank in Tennessee told the Knoxville News Sentinel that it sent nearly 100 emergency food packages to McGhee Tyson Airport after receiving an “unprecedented” request from the local American Federation of Government Employees union to provide them for the facility’s TSA workers.

“We’ve never had this type of request before,” Second Harvest spokeswoman Rhea Ennist told the newspaper. “We’ve been called for environmental emergencies but never before for this type of event.”

Renowned chef and humanitarian José Andrés announced he will assist in food distribution by opening a World Central Kitchen feeding site in Washington, D.C., for unpaid federal workers. Andrés has a history of setting up feeding stations in times of need, including in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and in Houston after severe flooding.

About 50,000 TSA agents are among the federal employees forced to remain on the job without pay, and agents are increasingly calling in sick to look for alternative ways to pay their bills. The TSA union spoke out last week against the shutdown, warning that the staffing shortage could present “a massive security risk” for travelers. TSA Administrator David Pekoske offered $500 bonuses and a day’s pay to his workers in hopes of easing some of the financial strain.