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Food drive at Harrisburg International Airport goes on despite end of government shutdown

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 1/29/19

A food drive to assist federal workers at Harrisburg International Airport affected by the partial budget shutdown is continuing, despite the shutdown having  ended Friday.

The HIA police …

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Food drive at Harrisburg International Airport goes on despite end of government shutdown

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A food drive to assist federal workers at Harrisburg International Airport affected by the partial budget shutdown is continuing, despite the shutdown having  ended Friday.

The HIA police department is leading the food drive that began Jan. 23 and goes through Thursday, Jan. 31.

The public can support the drive by dropping off food items at the HIA police department, located on the first floor of the HIA terminal between baggage claim and the ticket counters.

Suggested items to donate include pasta, rice, beans, cooking oils, pancake mix, crackers, granola bars, instant mashed potatoes, nuts/peanut butter, jelly, cereal/oats/grits, baby formula/food, coffee/tea, flour, salt/sugar, honey/syrup, sauces, mayo/mustard/ketchup, and canned goods such as vegetables, tuna, soups, juice and fruit.

Lt. Stephen Kiessling, who leads the HIA police department, said that food collected from the drive will either be donated to the affected HIA employees, or — in light of the shutdown ending — the police department will give the food to area food banks.

This will help the local food banks replenish themselves, after all the food that these banks have donated to impacted federal workers throughout the area during the record-long 35-day shutdown, Kiessling said.

“It’s a win-win for everybody” regardless of whether the donated food goes to the workers, or to restock area food banks, he added.

Most of the affected federal workers at HIA are airport screeners with the Transportation Security Administration, and air traffic controllers. A small number of Federal Aviation Administration employees at HIA also were affected, Kiessling said.

A flier about the drive was sent to area police chiefs, to spread the word among local police departments.

“We’ve got a good outpouring from the community,” with donations already filling up a room at the HIA police department, Kiessling said.

All of the federal employees affected by the shutdown are supposed to receive “almost all” of their back pay by the end of this week, according to published accounts quoting acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

But the shutdown deal announced by President Donald Trump only fully funds the government until Feb. 15 — fueling concerns that these same workers at HIA could be in the same boat again in a few weeks.

The affected federal workers at HIA were also being assisted over the past three weeks by a separate food donation effort being coordinated through Roberto’s Pizza at 23 S. Union St. in Middletown.

Roberto’s during this time has been donating food from its restaurant to match the amount being donated by groups of people from different companies and organizations, who buy meals from the pizza shop for the affected workers at HIA, Roberto’s Pizza owner David Kitner told the Press & Journal.

The idea for the effort came from a friend of Kitner’s who works in the insurance agency. He prefers to remain anonymous, Kitner said, as do all of the companies that have been participating in the effort — several of whom are well-known in the area.

Kitner said he has gotten calls from people in Connecticut and elsewhere “up north,” wanting to donate meals to the workers at HIA and providing their credit card number to pay for it.

Others have participated from places such as Enola and Lemoyne.

The other day, a woman came in to Roberto’s, dropped off $40 and said “feed them for me,” Kitner said. Other customers have done likewise. His employees at Roberto’s have also pitched in with donations.

“The best part about this is everyone wants to remain anonymous,” Kitner said.

One group that has been willing to step forward publicly is the Penn State Harrisburg boys basketball team. The team was planning to donate a hot meal to the workers at HIA sometime this week, along with some team T-shirts, Kitner said.

Kitner said he believes the number of federal workers affected at HIA is about 50 to 75. Many of these people Roberto’s already knew personally, before the shutdown, Kitner said.

By last week the workers were on “paycheck number two” that they had not received, Kitner said.

The tenured employees who have been with the agencies for a long time were better prepared for the shutdown, whereas the younger less experienced workers were struggling, Kitner added.

Shortly after Kitner made his comments to the Press & Journal came Trump’s announcement Friday ending the shutdown.

Kitner could not be immediately reached to say whether the effort led by Roberto’s will keep going, at least until the workers get their back pay.