New York (AFP) – Most have never needed the help of a pantry. But a month after the start of the US government shutdown, dozens of federal employees are lining up in Brooklyn for essential reasons.
Customs, tax and emergency management officials are all in the crowd, having been unemployed since December 22.
Others, considered "essential", such as transport workers or prison guards, are forced to continue working without pay, taking advantage of their lunch breaks to stock up.
Volunteers hold distribution tables in the lobby of the Barclays Center, in the borough of New York, which typically hosts concerts or sporting events rather than charity drives.
People in need register first and then fill the plastic bags with canned goods, potatoes, chicken, grapes and basic toiletries.
"To be honest, I came here to collect goods," said Antoinette Peek-Williams, an employee of the Department of Homeland Security, arriving at an hour's subway ride from Harlem.
"I can save money and invest in something else, that's what I'm trying to do."
Since the budget stalemate began, the 62-year-old lives "day-to-day – watching what I eat, watching what I spend, not spending".
"Praying that they make a decision sooner than later."
She hopes to return to work on February 1, an optimism she is not so certain.
"I am a person where the glass is always half full," said the mother of a student.
"I have to keep hope," she said. "If you do not have hope, you have nothing."
It's a sentiment shared by Chante Johnson, a tax administrator.
But "it's getting tough," said the 48-year-old. "It happens, like, at the end of everything."
– & # 39; Unprecedented & # 39; –
She is providing a daughter with her mother and says that she has not been able to sleep or eat healthy since her absence from work.
"I just want them to open it," she said. "Start talking and open the government."
For federal workers forced to work without pay, the situation is even more tense.
They can only testify anonymously, under oath of confidentiality.
"It's very stressful," said a 39-year-old single mother, who works as a prison guard at the Brooklyn Federal Detention Center.
She came to the pantry at lunch time, searching enough to prepare some meals.
Her daughter is about to finish high school and, by the time students apply to university, she complains of being unable to pay her child's application fees.
She managed to defer the monthly bill of her mobile phone – which she needs to work – with a late penalty.
But she will not be able to do it after mid-February.
"After that, I will not be able to go to work anymore," she said, saying that she would not have money to fill up the gas tank of her car.
The closure has exacerbated an already precarious situation in a city where soaring rents are driving more and more families into poverty, said Francisco Tezen, development manager at the Food Bank in New York.
The largest non-profit food organization in the city organized the distribution with sponsors.
"Something like this is unprecedented, almost equivalent to times when we had to activate responses and services in response to a disaster," Tezen said.
"Just the duration, the volatility and the unknowns."
Organizations like his "can be useful and useful," he said, "but we are not an antidote to stalemate or bad policy."
He refrained from blaming everything for the political stalemate, but many in New York, a Democratic stronghold, blame Donald Trump.
According to Johnson, the border situation is not serious enough to require the $ 5.7 billion requested by the president to build a wall.
"What happened? A Mexican beat him while he was a little boy, so he's so boastful about that wall?" she asked. "Talk about it and put us back to work.
"Get us the work we like to do."