RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
America's longest government shutdown is now in its 24th day. And it's putting a strain on federal workers, contractors and their families. In a suburb of Washington, D.C., this weekend, a nonprofit hosted five pop-up food banks for federal workers. And more than 2,000 people showed up. Here's NPR's Ian Stewart.
IAN STEWART, BYLINE: It was below freezing in Rockville, Md., at 9 a.m. But dozens of federal workers formed a line that stretched around the block, waiting to pick up fresh produce and canned goods - all free.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right, everyone. We're getting ready to get started. If you could just have your federal IDs ready.
STEWART: As the line moved forward, Capital Area Food Bank CEO Radha Muthiah was taking notes on what agencies they work for.
RADHA MUTHIAH: Department of State, Commerce, FDA, FBI, Coast Guard - we just had a woman from the White House. The list goes on.
STEWART: These aren't the food bank's usual clients, says Muthiah. They normally serve people near or below the poverty level. But...
MUTHIAH: Having that missed paycheck yesterday, they - you know, they're just worried about where to get their food. And we've had someone say, I'll pay you back after I get my paycheck, but I just need it now.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: One more bag coming, so you want to just wait here.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Oh, OK.
STEWART: For the federal workers who collected more than 30,000 pounds of produce across the region this weekend, the free food meant one less bill to worry about. And it gave them a chance to vent. Lorette Legendre, a General Services Administration contractor, called Washington's handling of the shutdown ridiculous.
LORETTE LEGENDRE: Something has got to happen very soon because people can't survive like this. You know, to stand out here in 30-degree weather to get food - this is America. Something's wrong here.
STEWART: Terrence Graham was also picking up food. He works in IT at the State Department and says he lives paycheck to paycheck.
TERRENCE GRAHAM: Playing with people's lives for the sake of whatever political idea you're behind - it's not good.
STEWART: So you feel like they're playing with your life?
GRAHAM: Yeah, I do. I do. You should value the worker a little bit more than that.
STEWART: Brittany May has a job at the National Institutes of Health, which has stayed open during the shutdown. She says she used to be grateful for the stability and benefits that came with working in the public sector.
BRITTANY MAY: Coming up, it's like, oh, you've got a federal government job. You've got a good job. It's making me wonder at this point, should we go to private? - (laughter) because I don't ever see a private company saying, oh, OK. We're going to shut down for weeks on - at end. The only place we've seen that happen is the federal government.
STEWART: The food bank says it will continue to host the pop-up distributions for federal workers until the government reopens. Ian Stewart, NPR News, Rockville, Md.