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Community serves dinner to Coast Guard families affected by government shutdown
Daily Press - 1/16/2019
Jan. 16--As Hannah Shuengrab's husband is preparing to deploy, she's trying to figure out how she'll take care of their four children without a paycheck if the government shutdown continues.
Shuengrab and her children were one of about 45 families that attended a potluck Tuesday hosted by Kelsea Pernsteiner, an Air Force veteran, and Carla Rutledge, who is active-duty in the Air Force.
Food has been a primary concern for families affected by the shutdown, Shuengrab said. She said she's been lucky because friends and neighbors have brought her family meals.
"I think you feel as a parent and an adult that you can deal with whatever," Shuengrab said. "But then you fear for your kids."
The military branch, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, is not funded during the shutdown.
She also worries about maintaining her own health because she's breastfeeding her almost 3-month-old baby.
Planning for the potluck started when Pernsteiner said she heard some of the Coast Guard families were advised to start babysitting or selling belongings to make some extra money.
"It hurt my heart," Pernsteiner said. "Especially knowing how many families live paycheck to paycheck."
Friday afternoon, Hunt Housing at Langley Air Force Base confirmed that Pernsteiner could use the Bethel Manor Clubhouse for the dinner.
Families were invited to enjoy the meal in the clubhouse or take the food to go.
"I decided I could do something so I should do something," Pernsteiner said.
She used Facebook to promote the potluck and ask for food and volunteers. The majority of volunteers were military spouses.
Members of the community prepared more than 85 food dishes to serve, 3 Amigos Mexican Restaurant in Kiln Creek donated enchiladas and burritos, and Da'Rican Chef in Newport News provided enough Puerto Rican rice, salad and pernil (roast pork).
In addition to the hot food, Pernsteiner and Rutledge raised more than $500 to provide non-perishable food that families could take with them.
Rutledge said she's talked to hundreds of members of the Coast Guard and reached out to every person who expressed interest in coming to the potluck.
"They're very concerned about what's to come," Rutledge said. "Some might say, 'we're OK right now, but come next month not so much.'"
She hopes the potluck will spark inspiration for others to get involved and help.
Some people have expressed frustration that the Coast Guard Spouse Association of Hampton Roads hasn't offered a food drive, but its president Amber Smith-St. Louis said it would be nearly impossible to reach all of the Coast Guard families in their geographic area, which spans across all of Hampton Roads and includes the Eastern Shore and parts of North Carolina.
She said any time the association finds out about local food drives or resources it's doing what it can to spread the word.
Smith-St. Louis encouraged people who want to help to donate to their local food pantries or give unused gift cards to people who are affected by the shutdown.
"It's not just active duty who are working without paychecks," Smith-St. Louis said. "There's not a lot going on for government employees who are furloughed."
Smith-St. Louis said her husband is on patrol, and she knows that community support makes a difference in her family.
"To me, him feeling comfortable that his home is in order means he's focused on the mission and he's able to do his job," Smith-St. Louis said. "And we can continue to have safe borders and safe fisheries."
Pernsteiner and Rutledge don't have any immediate plans for another potluck or food drive but said there are several other efforts in the community.
"As far as I'm concerned, if this continues to go on, I will continue to try and find a way to help however I can," Pernsteiner said. "If that means another dinner, it means another dinner."
Jessica Nolte, 757-247-4513, firstname.lastname@example.org, @jessicamnolte
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