Robyn Hochman at the Trailhead Cafe in Bar Harbor, one of several businesses offering credit or other help to furloughed federal government employees. ISLANDER PHOTO BY BECKY PRITCHARD

Community rallies for furloughed families

BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island residents, businesses and organizations have been rallying to support local National Park Service and Coast Guard employees and their families as the partial government shutdown stretches on.

Matt Hochman of the Trailhead Café said he saw a Facebook post last week about a fellow islander going without a paycheck due to the government shutdown.

“I really wanted to try and do something,” Hochman told the Islander. He asked his wife and business co-owner Angel Hochman if she thought they could offer to allow furloughed federal workers to run a tab at their cafe until the shutdown was over.

“She immediately agreed,” he said.

After making the announcement, Hochman was surprised by an anonymous donation from a community member. “We loaded the amount of the donation onto a gift card,” Hochman said, “to be used for those who may need it.” Anyone who is furloughed can use the gift card while funds last, said Hochman. After that, “we would happily run a tab for them until the shutdown is over.”

Since the Trailhead Café’s announcement, other businesses have followed suit. Peekytoe Provisions in Bar Harbor is also allowing furloughed government employees to run a tab until the shutdown is over. Side Street Café offered to credit $40 toward a meal of any furloughed employee Wednesday evening.

“We want them to know that the community stands behind them,” said owner Jena Young. “The winter is tough enough as it is.”

Steve Anastasia of Old Dog Baking announced he is offering a free loaf of sourdough bread, or “furloaf” to all furloughed federal employees through the weekly Farm Drop program in Somesville.

Mount Desert Historical Society is offering free admission to federal employees to their annual fundraiser bean supper at MDI High School on Jan. 21. “We’d be honored by your presence,” the invitation reads.

Free community meal programs around the island are also stepping up their production as the government shutdown continues.

Mahan Deva Sigh Khalsa of Open Table MDI in Bar Harbor announced on Facebook about their weekly Wednesday evening meal: “A special reminder to any furloughed employees: we are here to support you! Please spread the word to all!”

Arnold Weisenberg of Common Good Café in Southwest Harbor said they have doubled their production of soup, and have reached out to local Coast Guard families. “We cannot supply soups to the mess or the commissary, because on base that would be a violation of federal law,” he said.

Coast Guard personnel are bound by a “Standard of Ethical Conduct” which prohibits them from accepting direct donations.

So, Weisenberg said, Common Good volunteers are working on getting food to Coast Guard families, not the Coast Guard personnel themselves.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, a “BYOB” potluck dinner, open mic and silent auction to benefit area Coast Guard families is planned. It will be held at the American Legion Hall, 22 Village Green Way in Southwest Harbor, from 5 to 10 p.m.

“I just really hate to think about people going to work for weeks and not getting paid,” Evelyn Harper, one of the event’s organizers and a resident of Southwest Harbor, said Monday. “A lot of people here live paycheck to paycheck in a seasonal community and sometimes it’s scary. These families travel from state to state and these kids are always leaving friends behind and maybe these families will always remember how special this community is.”

In a similar vein, Southwest Harbor Food Mart has a donation box of nonperishable items for Coast Guard families. Store Manager Adrian Leach said they have delivered donated items to about a dozen homes so far, and are still accepting donations.

Jenny Jones of the Bar Harbor Food Pantry said the pantry is open and always accepting new people to enroll in its services.

Recently, food pantry volunteers have been signing up two to three new households each day the pantry has been open, Jones said. At the end of December, the pantry was serving 440 households, representing about 1,200 people.

“I do believe we’ll see more,” she said. “It’s why we exist. Most of the workers don’t qualify for other assistance programs; that’s where the pantry comes in. We don’t have income restrictions. We’re definitely there for individuals who are working and can’t quite make ends meet, or who have things like this happen.

“I know it’s not fun to walk in,” she continued, “but I promise it is a warm and welcoming place that can provide the basics to help.”

The food pantry also accepts canned food and cash donations.

“And we can always put volunteers to work,” she said, noting that some furloughed park rangers came in to volunteer last week. “It’s so thoughtful of them, during what must be a stressful time.”

Jones said she is also able to issue gift cards at Serendipity, the used clothing retailer on Firefly Lane that the food pantry operates to support the food program.

“We do that a lot with people who are fire victims or displaced,” she said.

For larger financial needs such as rent, mortgages, car payments and other bills, some local banks have announced low interest loans available. The Bar Harbor (MDI) Rotary Club is also offering a small number of loans of up to $2,000 for furloughed workers.


Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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