Furloughed Workers In Hard-Hit Community Gather For Potluck During Shutdown Friday evening, as the shutdown bordered on becoming the longest in U.S. history, hundreds of furloughed workers gathered in Montgomery County, Md., to share a meal.
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Furloughed Workers In Hard-Hit Community Gather For Potluck During Shutdown

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Furloughed Workers In Hard-Hit Community Gather For Potluck During Shutdown

Furloughed Workers In Hard-Hit Community Gather For Potluck During Shutdown

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

We're going to turn now to the partial federal government shutdown, which is now the longest in history as we've entered day 22. We're going to hear from voices across the country during the program today about how the shutdown is affecting their lives. But we're going to start first in the Washington, D.C., area, which is disproportionately feeling the effect. Montgomery County, Md. is adjacent to Washington, D.C. It's home to over 75,000 federal employees. On Friday evening, hundreds of these furloughed workers packed into a local high school to share a meal. NPR's Rebecca Ellis reports from Montgomery Blair High School.

MCCAMMON: The line of furloughed workers and their families sneaks across the cafeteria. Six hundred people have RSVP'd for tonight's potluck, but even more have showed up. Roberta Long came to get out of the house.

ROBERTA LONG: Oh, and it's been mad. It's just been, like, utter chaos.

MCCAMMON: Long works as an IT specialist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Her youngest son attends daycare on the property. A government shutdown means no work and no daycare. Long says 24/7 with the energetic youngster is stretching her thin.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Can I run around?

LONG: Well, why don't you...

REBECCA ELLIS, BYLINE: After three weeks without work, many of those at the potluck are reaching their limits. Earlier that day, Melinda Batson, who works at the Food and Drug Administration, received a paystub with zeroes on it.

MELINDA BATSON: I mean, it does something to you mentally to look at a paycheck, and all you see is zeros.

ELLIS: Batson's worried what all these zeros mean for her mortgage, car payment and utility bill.

BATSON: I don't have no one to support me. I'm my own support system.

ELLIS: County Council member Tom Hucker organized the potluck. He says he was shocked at just how many federal employees poured in with their families. Tonight, county residents made it clear to him. The alternatives are grim.

TOM HUCKER: They are staying home every night. They haven't gone out to dinner, or they're eating the fish sticks in the bottom of the freezer, one of them told me.

ELLIS: Hucker says he wanted to provide his county with one night of levity. High schoolers were brought in on the drums.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

ELLIS: A local musician crooned Elvis Costello.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) I walked on through troubled times.

ELLIS: And U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen blew out candles on his 60th birthday cake.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: So I want to thank Tom (ph) for not putting as many candles as years there so I can actually...

ELLIS: With so many federal employees living in the county, everyone knows someone impacted by the shutdown. Neighbors of furloughed workers streamed into the high school, food donations in tow.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I bought a can - a can of ravioli.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is a vegan pizza.

PETER KARPOFF: OK.

ELLIS: Peter Karpoff (ph) is collecting and serving the donated food. There've been so many desserts handed over there's no room for them. Firemen gifted most of the pizza, which Karpoff now gives out.

KARPOFF: I'm a retired federal employee just trying to help out and give solace to these people. Pizza plain or pepperoni? I'll serve it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Thank you. I'm sorry.

ELLIS: Mohammed Siddique (ph), another retired federal employee, sits at a table with workers he's just met. He came to show support.

MOHAMMED SIDDIQUE: We have their back, and that's why I am here for them.

ELLIS: To his right's a furloughed contractor and his wife, a hairstylist who says her business is drying up. Local clients aren't spending any money. Siddique says this is how it works in Montgomery County.

SIDDIQUE: I have lived in this community for over 25 years, and these people suffer. The community suffers.

ELLIS: For better or worse, he says the county's livelihood is intertwined with the fate of the furloughed.

Rebecca Ellis, NPR News, Montgomery County, Md.

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