How local organizations are helping federal workers during the shutdown

CHICAGO — Local organizations are stepping up to help families impacted by the government shutdown.

The Lakeview Pantry is offering federal government employees two weeks’ worth of free groceries and access to social services — regardless of where the employees live. Employees must present an ID.

Jennie Hull, Lakeview Pantry’s director of programs, said the organization has already had few federal workers come in for help. The pantry expects to see more federal workers as the shutdown drags on.

“A lot of our clients are one paycheck away from being in a situation where they would need food or would need to make tough decisions,” Hull said.

Friday marks 21 days into the shutdown with no end in sight. Roughly 800,000 federal workers nationwide are either furloughed or forced to work without pay. Friday is also the first day many of those workers will go without a paycheck — a grim milestone that inches many families closer to food insecurity.

In Elmhurst, the Kiwanis Club is stepping up — expanding its Food for Thought program to cover families affected by the government shutdown. The club is donating lunch money to kids in need at Elmhurst schools.

“How do they get educated when their stomachs are growling?” Rich Rosenberg of the Kiwanis Club said. “Whatever it takes, however long it is, and however tough it is, we’ll be there and we will be supplying monies to the school so they can distribute money to the children.”

Beverly Redmond, who handles communications for Elmhurst School District 205, said, “Regardless of the situation, a parent can just stop or call and say, ‘This is the situation for my child,’ and get relief instantly.”

As the shutdown continues, Adler Planetarium is offering free admission for federal workers.

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Across the state, federal food assistance money will be still be provided through the end of February, state officials announced Friday.

The Illinois Department of Human Services said Friday that February SNAP benefits will be issued to Illinois customers about a week and a half earlier than usual. The state agency says the benefits, also known as food stamps, will come on or before Jan. 20. Benefits typically arrived in the first few days of the month. State officials say the lack of federal appropriations won't affect January and February SNAP benefits.

State officials say agency staff will make changes so customers don't see a disruption in benefits. SNAP customers will receive the normal amount of monthly benefits.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the program through the Illinois human services agency.